Cool Schools: Special needs school is one of a kind in the Midla - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Cool Schools: Special needs school is one of a kind in the Midlands

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

On the outside Pendergrass Fairwold School may look like any other school, and on the inside you may find what looks like regular classrooms, but if you have some time, stay a while.

"We house students here from the ages of three to 21," said Principal Faythe Redenburg. Redenburg says Pendergrass Fairwold in the Richland One School District is the only school of its kind in the Midlands.

"All of our students here are moderately to severely disabled," said Redenburg. "We have several students here who are medically fragile." In fact administrators say many of the students could not be supported in your average school environment, and because of that students are not separated into grades. "Everyone's goal and plan is individualized based on what their needs and their strengths and weaknesses are," added Redenburg.

However, teachers are careful to point out that differences are not equal to limitations. "It's just amazing the types of activities they actually can accomplish if you give them the chance and the time," said Wendy Furstenberg, a teacher at Pendergrass Fairwold.

On top of curriculum and changing activities, students gather three times a week to host the school's morning announcements. "We practice every day, and they do some research on the computer to find the weather," said Furstenberg.

While literacy, math and related arts are classroom focuses, teachers say the core mission of the Pendergrass Fairwold is to build confidence and empower independence. "I want them to be able to speak for themselves for one thing," said Furstenberg. "I always give them plenty of choices because I definitely believe in the right to choice and the right to dignity."

Administrators say while some students are working to gain more self-esteem, others are working to transition into the working world. In every case, lives are being changed. "I love what they mean, and I love to see them come in everyday," said Principal Redenburg. "Some of them who should have all the cares and concerns in the world, when you see the babies come through the door- it makes a difference. And we know that we're making a difference here with our school."

Pendergrass Fairwold is a part of the Richland One School District off of Farrow Road in Columbia. There are 106 students at the school and its open to all students in the district. Administrators say each students goes through an application and approval process.

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