The SSN Program Helps Students Succeed


Pictured from left to right: front row: Mrs. Ivy Green, Mrs. AnneMarie Gary, Ms. Elizabeth Hensen, Ms. Risa Arseneault, Miss Rachelle Hyatt. Back row: Mrs. Ellen Romer-Lineweaver, Miss Jenna Schmitz, RN, Mrs. Sam Bauman, Miss Grace Woolf. Not pictured: Mrs. Heather Rush, Ms. Lisa Redinger

Lexi Riehl, Journalist

Air Academy’s SSN  (Significant Support Needs) program is full of life, friendship, learning, and development, dedicated to the adjustment of education for students with additional needs.

It is designed for students who need extensive support in order to learn, communicate or take care of their personal, physical, and emotional needs,” said the head of the program Risa Arseneault.

Crafted for individual student learning styles and geared towards a learning experience that is beneficial, the SSN program at Air Academy High School has not only influenced the school, but also the state as a whole.

“This year the Colorado Department of Education has deemed AAHS SSN program as a model site. It’s the only high school that has this status. It is based on an extensive evaluation of quality indicators that the state determines to be important in supporting students with significant support needs,” said Arsenault.  

Through extensive efforts by Arsenault, the teacher assistants (PARAS),  student administration, and teachers who have been involved, the program has soared. Arsenault’s dedication has made an influential distinction on all SSN programs throughout the state’ the program has gained a large appreciation from our community.

PARAS will accompany SSN students to school dances, sporting events, and other activities, giving them the support they need to participate in the exciting events of high school. In addition, students’ passions and goals are heavily encouraged by teachers and paras.

“Our students who have significant support needs are not defined by their disabilities. They all have interests and hobbies and strengths,” said Arseneault. “All of them are extremely talented, and there is a high level of participation in extracurricular activities.” 

The staff is committed to providing support beyond the classroom, as they focus on emotional, educational, and social aspects.

“What makes me and my staff feel so successful is hearing parents tell us how happy their children are and that they are so happy to go to school. They get up early to come to school, or over breaks, are excited to go back. We are creating an atmosphere of that is caring and compassionate, leaving high expectations for our students,” said Arseneault. 

A great way that other students can get involved in the SSN program is through being a peer partner.

“My favorite thing about being a peer partner is seeing kids grow and form awesome relationships with their peers,” said junior Jonnie Moore.

As a peer partner, the student will either be a partner to a student with significant support needs in a streamlined class or work in the SSN room while helping with various courses.

“Oftentimes students with significant support needs are lonely, and their friend circles are nonexistent or super small, but the peer partner program increases the student’s friend circles and their quality of life as well. A parent’s biggest want for their child would be for them to have a friend, and the peer partner program creates this space for friendships to form,” said Arseneault.

Another class students can take is Peer Partner Physical Education. This class provides a fun environment for the student and peer to earn their PE credit. The class consists of games that are geared towards the physical development of peer students while having fun with their partners. If a student is looking for a class with good fun and sweet friendships within the class, this is the place for them.

“The friendships that are made in this class allow the students to feel and know they are a part of the bigger community of the school,” said PE teacher Kali Maxwell.

In addition to classes, you can get involved with the students within the SSN program by volunteering for  Capernaum. The organization Young Life has a branch of their ministry called Capernaum, that is an outreach to students with special needs, where they create a fun and vibrant community to bring students together of all capabilities.

Capernaum is now at AAHS, and you can join in on the fun by going to the cafeteria on Fridays and meeting with the leaders and eating lunch with SSN kids. This provides a way to get connected with the SSN program without taking a specific class.

Overall, the SSN program goes beyond the classroom walls, and it continues into the entire community of AAHS. The program’s success is prevalent to everyone who crosses path with it, and SSN has plans to continue to achieve and maintain this criterion of passion for learning.