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SpEd Spotlight: STARS Partnership with SSSD Shines Light on Enhancing Special Education

SpEd Spotlight: STARS Partnership with SSSD Shines Light on Enhancing Special Education


“It takes a village.” It’s a common phrase to describe what is needed to help kids thrive. Parents of special education students would say the same thing, and then some. Leaning on one another within the community gives our special education students the best chance of success.

That’s why Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports (STARS) is such an important asset to the Steamboat Springs School District and the special education community in the Yampa Valley. 

STARS, best known for its year-round life-changing adaptive sports programs, partners with the school district in a number of ways, helping to enhance the opportunities for special education students. 

Historically, STARS has been involved in the schools by helping to support adaptive PE. This past year, the partnership has evolved to incorporate programming on STARS property and in the schools to directly assist special education staff. Earlier this year, STARS provided temporary affordable housing at STARS Ranch to a special education teacher who might have had to leave the position otherwise. Additionally, STARS staff have volunteered their time in the schools to help support special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and peer mentors. 

“This partnership is so important because we have a shared interest in these student’s lives,” said Karla Setter, assistant principal at Steamboat Springs High School and co-chair of the Steamboat Springs Special Education Advisory Committee (SSEAC). “They provide an amazing service to our students with the most needs, enriching these kids’ lives.” 

Every Wednesday afternoon, a handful of special education students from Steamboat Springs High School visit Zen Ranch, a STARS facility, to engage in equine therapy. Engagement with the horses varies by student – some ride the horses while others simply spend time with the horses. These interactions help to enhance self-esteem, self-discipline, and empathy.

“They love coming out,” said Ron Southworth, program director with STARS. 

One of the students, according to Southworth, was allowed to take their shoes off and feel the horse with their feet. 

“Bonding with another beating heart really benefits the student,” said Southworth. 

STARS has also provided training for peer aides at SSHS for the first time. A peer aide is a student who spends time with a special education student, providing academic and social support. At the beginning of the year, Southworth sat down with about 20 student aides and provided information about how to best help students with special needs. 

“It can be daunting to a young person or a paraprofessional if something suddenly doesn’t go right,” said Southworth. “That can be scary for them. It’s all about slowing things down, being patient, and learning how to communicate. I think it helped. It’s important to encourage students to be something bigger than themselves.”

Tyler King, a senior at SSHS, is a peer aide at SSHS. On Mondays and Wednesdays, she engages with special education students, whether it’s going for a walk around campus or accompanying students on a trip off campus. She often goes to Zen Ranch on Wednesdays to help out. 

A STARS employee, along with SSHS student Tyler King, helped student Olivia MacGray ride in style at Zen Ranch. 

King has also worked as a camp counselor at STARS for the past two summers and hopes to work again for STARS this summer. Through her involvement with STARS and experience working with special education students, she wants to pursue a career as a special education teacher, occupational therapist, or recreational therapist. 

No matter if her involvement is through working directly with STARS or the special education community at the high school, she loves building connections with her peers. 

“Everyone communicates differently and has their own way of thinking,” said King. “Being able to make a connection with someone who communicates differently is awesome.”

STARS is always looking for volunteers who are interested in giving back to their community. Visit their website for more information. Additionally, SSSD is hiring paraprofessionals to support our students. For more information and to apply, visit SSSD’s website

About Steamboat SEAC: The Steamboat Springs Special Education Advisory Committee is a representational committee made up of parents, educators, and community members working together to improve outcomes for special education students.