Inaugural grant awarded to Gehlen Catholic School

Monday, May 16, 2022
Gehlen Catholic students will benefit from a FIRE Foundation of Northwest Iowa Grant the school recently received. Gehlen was awarded $20,000 to support the hiring of paraprofessional educators.

SIOUX CITY — Gehlen Catholic Schools was named one of two recipients of the inaugural FIRE Foundation of Northwest Iowa Grants.

The inaugural grants, which total $40,000, were made to Gehlen and Bishop Heelan Catholic High School in Sioux City for the 2022-2023 school year to assist in providing services for students with special needs.

Gehlen was awarded $20,000 to support the hiring of two paraprofessionals. According to a news release issued by the FIRE Foundation of Northwest Iowa, Gehlen’s two-part grant will benefit the elementary, middle, and high school.

On the elementary side, Gehlen’s grant will support the hiring of a full-time paraeducator (“para”). The para will serve students with academic, social-emotional, and behavioral needs. Gehlen Catholic Elementary has been serving students with a full-time para previously and added a part-time para for the 2021-2022 school year.

Gehlen’s 7-12 grant would assist in the hiring of an additional full-time para. Without the FIRE Foundation’s grant, several families would have to separate their children and send their children to different educational settings. This was a choice the families adamantly informed the administration they did not want to make.

“It is so exciting to be part of this growing movement to ensure inclusive faith based education for those families seeking it,” said Gehlen 7-12 Grade Principal Pete Haefs. “We are passionate about this and are excited to roll up our sleeves to help chart the course for the future of Catholic education.

Haefs continued, “We are lucky to have more students and families choosing a Catholic education, even if special learning needs exist. This has caused us to be creative in approaching this and through connections in our community we became connected to the FIRE Foundation. Once we learned of the grants it was a no brainer to sign on.”

At Bishop Heelan, they were awarded $20,000 to hire a credentialed special education teacher. In their application, Bishop Heelan demonstrated its commitment to inclusion over the past several years through their increased structured support to students.

The FIRE Foundation’s grant will specifically enable Bishop Heelan High School to expand its capacity to serve students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans for the 2022-2023 school year.

Without the FIRE Foundation’s grant, Bishop Heelan’s administration would have had to explore less effective educational opportunities.

Heelan and Gehlen will leverage the FIRE Foundation of Northwest Iowa’s grant to secure additional resources. The schools will provide a mid-year report to the FIRE Foundation of Northwest Iowa to ensure the goals of the grant and the needs of the students are achieved.

Dr. Ryan Allen, president of the FIRE Foundation of Northwest Iowa, said the grants are possible because of the support of generous donors and the Diocese of Sioux City, who recognize the importance of providing these services.

Allen stated the organization was founded in 2020. Parents wanted to ensure their children with special needs were educated in their respective Catholic schools along with their other children.

Until the launch of the FIRE Foundation in Northwest Iowa, students diagnosed with significant disabilities were not always able to receive all the needed educational support and resources in their respective Catholic schools, even with the support of the Northwest Iowa Area Education Agency.

The FIRE Foundation of Northwest Iowa’s mission is to provide children with special needs the opportunity for inclusive education in the Catholic schools they attend in the northwest region of Iowa.

Inclusive education is defined as, “Educating individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities in the general education classroom, shoulder to shoulder, with their age peers (in the same or one classroom versus always pulling students out).”

The mission is achieved by living the organization’s vision and values, raising awareness and financial resources to provide professional development, staffing, technology, and other adaptive resources to Catholic schools in northwest Iowa.

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