BATAVIA, N.Y. — Six years of instructing, formulating, collaborating, and educating has given hope and success to one family in Batavia, who thought it could never be possible.
Trisha Finnegan, Director of Special Education and Alternative Education for Batavia City School District, strives to accomplish the department’s goal of providing all children with the necessary support and assistance to be successful learners.
“Compassion creates compassion,” said David Hamblin, of Batavia, “My son is finally building positive self-esteem, and it is our team at Batavia school district, along with the educators at BOCES, making this huge positive difference in my family's life.”
Hamblin, a single-parent, moved to the area about a year ago with his adopted son Matthew, 15, after much disappointment with school districts in New Mexico, Indiana, and Brighton.
“I was so frustrated by our former school districts that I pulled my son out of school and home-schooled him,” said Hamblin. Matthew has been diagnosed with basal ganglia syndrome, a learning disorder that is often characterized by behavioral problems and attention difficulties.
Before a student is diagnosed with a disability, teachers will discuss the student's behavior and try to accommodate the child in other ways. For example, if a child fidgets all day in their chair, the instructor might set a cushion on the seat. If that doesn't work, they will try something else. Finnegan said they have to exhaust all options first.
“You can have ten kids who have a learning disability, but not everything is going to work the same for each one,” said Finnegan. “We have to work hard to find the accommodations and everyone has to work together as a team.”
Hamblin had a few conversations with School Board President Patrick Burke and decided to re-enter Matthew into a public school. Finnegan said it is their number one goal to keep the students involved in general education classes.
“We really want to make sure we level the playing field,” said Finnegan. It's important, she said, to make a face-to-face connection because it can build the next 12 years of an education.
“Trisha gave me the hope I needed at a very crucial time,” said Hamblin, “I can’t say enough about her and our team of educators here in Batavia. Gratitude flows from this family.”
Finnegan has been the director for six years and said her motivation to work with children came from her parents.
"My parents were foster parents,” said Finnegan, “I grew up with a lot of kids and a piece of me wanted to work with kids.”
Finnegan thought she was destined for a legal career, and after receiving her Bachelor's in Law at Union College, she decided to attend Buffalo State, where she received a Bachelors of Science and pursued her Masters in Education.
She is so excited to watch her students graduate and go on to be successful.
“I am at a point now where I really have gotten to know my kids, and I think, in the future, I will be able to see a lot more of my students graduating,” said Finnegan, who hopes also to keep in contact with the students and their families.
“Parents can participate in their child’s programming, visit their student, chat with teachers,” said Finnegan, “It is really important to be open and willing because it is a key part of planning.”
Advice for parents: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask lots and lots of questions.” she said. “It will be very beneficial for the student.” There are no dumb questions, she said.
Finnegan said the most important characteristic is to be collaborative. The program is not like it used to be where a teacher would pull a student out and work with them one of one.
“Now we must work as a team,” she said.
Hamblin can’t thank Finnegan and her team enough for the time and patience they spent with his son.
“They took the time to get to know my son and see what he was capable of achieving,” said Hamblin.
“When you see the look in (the parents') eyes that says: 'My child got here because of what you did,' those are the little moments,” said Finnegan. ”When parents just want to thank you, that is special.”
“She is a hero in my book,” said Hamblin, “I am now able to breathe a sigh of relief.”