Reports that Friday's shooter may have had Asperger syndrome, an autism disorder, worried advocates and made a Modesto program to integrate autistic teens all the more relevant.
"I have to say, when I read that, it just made my heart sink, because the last thing I want is to have backlash against any child," said Ginger Johnson.
Before moving up the administrative ladder this year, Johnson ran special-education programs for Modesto City Schools and helped put in place the Pura Vida program at Beyer High and Roosevelt Junior High.
Pura Vida mixes outgoing, high-energy peers and high-functioning autistic teens. They pair to work through a curriculum of social and job situations, learning cues to watch for appropriate responses.
"It truly teaches empathy to our (nondisabled) kids. Because the kids are connected, they help each other," Johnson said.
Adolescence is a tough time for everybody, she said, but for those with social deficits, it can be very hard.
"The interesting thing is with the pre- and post-(class) tests; what we have found is both the target kids and the typical kids grow in social skills. They both grow," she said.
In addition, the program brings together the school community, she said. "Our teachers are more accepting and our administrators are more accepting. It's just raised the awareness. They talk with such pride about that program."
While no one can predict or entirely prevent the horror that happened in Connecticut, programs that enrich lives and raise understanding can help, Johnson said. "It's just a start," she said. "Really, we need a bigger society."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.