Pre-School/Special Start Program

The Pre-School program for students with disabilities in Cambridge Public Schools is the Special Start program. The program provides services for preschool aged children, 3-5, who have a disability as outlined by state and federal requirements under the Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The program is designed to service students with a variety of needs from mild to severe disabilities. The program is intentionally designed to ensure that students are educated with non-disabled peers with integrated classrooms and intensive, integrated classrooms. In addition, sub-separate classrooms are always paired in buildings with integrated classrooms in order to provide inclusive opportunities for students, as they are ready. The delivery of services is based on the intensity and need of each individual student and is determined by the student’s IEP team.

Identification Process
There are two ways in which pre-school aged students are identified to receive services through the Special Start program:
  • Transition from Early Intervention Services: Students who previously were identified with a disability through Massachusetts Early Intervention (EI) division are referred to the school district by Early Intervention prior to the student turning 3 years of age. The school district conducts a transition meeting to determine continued eligibility and write an IEP that outlines the services and supports for the student that will begin at age 3.

  • Child Find (District Screening): Cambridge Public Schools Office of Student Services collaborates with local child-care agencies to ensure that students, ages 3-4, are identified for services early. In addition, screening appointments are held bi-weekly for any student, ages 3-4, whose parent or guardian are concerned of a suspected disability that may require specialized services and supports. Families should contact the Special Start office if you suspect your child may have a disability.
Pre-School Services
  • Consult Services: Related Service providers, Assistive Technology specialists, Applied Behavior Analysis Specialists (ABA), and Special Educators collaborate with staff in Cambridge pre-schools to ensure that students with disabilities enrolled in those preschools are able to access the curriculum and are successful in their outlined pre-school program.
  • Walk-in Therapy: Families are able to access related services for students who are enrolled in private or community pre-school/day-care programs or who are home by attending services held at one of the designated elementary school sites. The student’s IEP team determines services. Related Services include Speech/Language therapy, Occupational therapy, or Physical therapy.
  • Special Start Classrooms: IEP teams who determine that student’s needs can not be met through consult and/or walk-in therapy assign students to one of the two type of Special Start classrooms. The two types of classrooms are as follows:
    • Integrated Preschool Classrooms are inclusive classrooms that have six students with an IEP and six students without an IEP enrolled. Students with disabilities range across the eligibility categories. The classroom utilizes a language-based, hands-on, multi-sensory curriculum that is aligned to the Massachusetts Early Childhood program standards and frameworks. The student’s IEP team assigns students with IEP’s to this classroom. Students without disabilities are assigned to the classroom by completing an application and entering the Pre-School lottery. Integrated classrooms operate three hours per day, five days per week, 10-months per year.
    • Substantially Separate Preschool Classrooms are classrooms for students with moderate to severe disabilities who require intensive, small group or individual services and instruction. The capacity of the substantially separate classroom is eight students. The classroom promotes discrete, direct teaching in a highly structured environment. The substantially separate classrooms operate six hours per day, five days per week, 11-months per year.
Program Components
  • Behavior planning (i.e. individual and classroom)
  • Speech and Language therapy/consultation (i.e. general socialization, communication, non-verbal cues)
  • Occupational therapy (i.e. sensory integration/regulation, motor planning)
  • Low student to teacher ratio, staffed with a Certified Special Education Teacher with specialized training in early childhood/pre-school education and special education and one-three Para-professionals based on the intensity of the needs of the students
  • Eleven-month program
  • Evidenced based instruction, intervention and support emphasizing safety, independence, social, functional, academic and behavior skills.
Classroom Locations