The oldest of four kids, Pat Gassman is a great big brother.
He’s always looking out for his siblings, Cat, Joey and Will, making sure they feel included and have plenty of snacks.
Right now, their family is enjoying their summer, vacationing at the beach and playing sports.
Pat’s planning to read some graphic novels — “Dogman” is one of his favorites — practice piano and build model planes.
In the fall he will be a third grader at St. Francis de Sales, where he receives support from the Special People in Catholic Education (SPICE) program.
Established in Ohio in the early 90s, SPICE was created to help any child, regardless of their learning needs, access a Catholic education, said Lianna Capretta, a member of Licking County’s SPICE board.
“That has brought, into our 740 area code, the opportunity for kids with unique learning needs to be able to stay within St. Francis, Blessed Sacrament and Newark Catholic,” Lianna said.
When the organization started locally, their biggest goal was to raise funds to bring intervention specialists into the three school buildings. Now that support structure is in place, SPICE focuses more on fundraising and connecting school staff with additional resources.
In the past, the SPICE board has coordinated volunteers to help with note taking or reading tests to students who needed to hear the material out loud.
Board members also recently helped compile a list of local speech therapy providers for an administrator, said Tonya Hawk, a SPICE board member.
Over the past few years, SPICE has brought resources and information into the buildings that benefit all the students and teachers, as well as the students who need specialized support, Lianna said.
Currently, there are full-time certified intervention specialists in each building who are actively working with teachers, administration, families and students. Also, all buildings are certified Jon Peterson providers, she said.
When Pat started school, his parents, Mary and Gregg Gassman, weren’t sure that he would be able to attend St. Francis with his siblings.
The Gassmans reached out to the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ Early Intervention program, shortly before Pat turned 3.
Their family began working with an LCBDD Developmental Specialist to help Pat improve his speech. The Gassmans later found out that Pat was on the autism spectrum.
He attended Cherry Valley Elementary School but it was important to his parents that he attend the same school as his siblings.
They were excited when they found out that SPICE was available.
“It’s nice to know it’s there,” Mary said. “It’s helped the teachers find new ways to support him.”
Tonya said she was thrilled to hear their family has had such a good experience.
“He is doing so well at St. Francis and everyone who has worked with him has done an incredible job,” she said.
For more information about SPICE, visit the St. Francis, Blessed Sacrament or Newark Catholic websites.