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Alex Diamond, an 18-year-old Millard South student, can rattle off facts yet struggles with social interactions. The Millard Public Schools and Munroe-Meyer Institute are teaming up on programs next year to help students like Diamond, a high-functioning autistic young man.

Every student deserves the opportunity to have a full, rewarding experience in school. Commendable new initiatives by Millard Public Schools, to help autistic students, and the Archdiocese of Omaha, to support special education students, deserve applause.

The Millard programs, which will also include students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, will use recreation technicians and volunteer peers to teach basic skills, including interpersonal interactions and everyday tasks. Middle school and high school students will be the focus in one program; another program will work with the district’s young adults. The programs will begin this fall, through a partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute.

The institute conducted a five-year study in the Westside Community Schools that showed the importance of strengthening students’ social skills. The Millard programs work to help reduce young people’s isolation.

The Archdiocese of Omaha, meanwhile, will begin inclusion special education services at St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Pius X/St. Leo for the coming school year, in collaboration with Madonna School & Community-Based Services. Each school will have an administrative special education specialist from Madonna, a special education teacher and special education assistants. The archdiocese over time may extend the initiative to additional schools, depending on demand and capacity.

“We had immediate interest, and a level of interest that far outpaced our capacity for this initial rollout,” said Madonna President Jon Burt.

These are just two examples of how Nebraska schools are working to fully serve all their students. Such commendable efforts can bring major benefits to young people by helping them integrate well with peers, enjoy new opportunities and fulfill their potential.

All involved in developing and implementing these initiatives deserve a salute.

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