Special Learning Needs

Services for Kids with Special Learning Needs

Why Special Services?

mom and child

A child with learning difficulties or attention problems may need some modification to a standard curriculum. Sometimes these can be minor adaptations, such as presenting lessons orally. Sometimes a different book format may be required.

An individualized curriculum which works with the student’s strengths in order to develop the weaker areas is the best teaching approach for a student with learning difficulties.

For the home schooling parent, designing such a curriculum can be a real challenge. While a parent may be knowledgeable about a child’s learning style, the parent may not know where to find appropriate materials to satisfy the academic requirement as well as fit the child’s learning needs.

The Special Needs department at Seton works to help children with a range of difficulties, such as Attention Deficit, Down syndrome, and dyslexia.

The Staff

Stephen Costanzo

The customized curricula are designed by Stephen Costanzo who has been with Seton Home Study School since August 2004.

Stephen received his Bachelor of Science Magna Cum Laude in Psychology and Religion from the University of Mary Washington in 2000, and his Master of Teaching in Special Education with an endorsement in Learning Disabilities from the University of Virginia in 2002.

Stephen spent two years teaching children with learning difficulties in the public school system. He has experience administering and interpreting the Woodcock Johnson III Achievement Test and designing and implementing IEPs and Behavior Modification Plans.

Stephen was trained in the Wilson Reading Program (an Orton-Gillingham remedial reading program) and used it with students for two years. He is also trained in project CRISS, a program that aims to create student independence in school work through learning strategies which students can learn and implement on their own.

When designing a Seton curriculum, Stephen consults with the parents, studies evaluations, and examines test scores and any other pertinent data in order to learn about a student’s academic level in each subject as well as his learning style. The personal telephone counseling continues throughout the year whenever a parent feels the need to try another technique, discuss a problem, or share some news of success.

Stephen is also working with Pat Walker who is adapting lesson plans from the regular program for courses for students with special needs.

Stephen taught a First Communion Catechism class at St. Joseph’s in Richmond. He is married with nine young children.

Kathleen Hunt

Kathleen Hunt joined the department in October, 2013. She has a B.S. degree in Elementary Education, and has earned graduate credits in the areas of British Literature and Political Science from The College of New Jersey. She has a Collegiate Professional VA Teaching License – PreK-6th grade, and a NJ Teaching Certification in Elementary Education for K – 8th grades. Kathleen’s teaching career spans eighteen years. She taught at St. Paul’s School in Princeton, NJ, Wakefield Country Day School in Flint Hill, VA, and Linton Hall School in Bristow, VA. Kathleen also worked in the Resource Room at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna, VA teaching children with special needs ranging from 2nd through 7th grades. She addressed a myriad of academic, emotional, and behavioral needs as she implemented her students’ IEPs. She most recently taught at St. Padre Pio Learning Center, Front Royal, VA. Her background and educational experiences will enable her to assist parents and students with the support and encouragement that is often needed. Kathleen is usually the first person in the Special Needs Department with whom you have the opportunity to speak. She also assists with many of the office requirements and the scheduling of new curriculum appointments in addition to grading elementary papers. Should you have any questions, they may be directed to Kathleen. She currently teaches 5th grade religious education at St. John the Baptist parish in Front Royal, VA. She is married with two children and five grandchildren.

Karen Eriksson-Lee

Karen Eriksson-Lee holds a Bachelor of Science for Dance with a Minor in Psychology from Shenandoah University, and a Master of Education from Shippensburg University. She began working in Seton’s Special Services Department January of 2018. In 1987 Eriksson-Lee founded the Northern VA Academy of Ballet in Front Royal, VA, where she is Artistic Director, and choreographs for her performing ensemble Dancing by His Grace. She is a professional ballet teacher, private coach and guest teacher.

Karen has taught academically and artistically for over 30 years with children of all abilities from pre-k to young adult, in private and public schools in both Virginia and Pennsylvania. She developed and implemented a Bible school program at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Front Royal, VA, and taught at their home school co-op Guild of the Holy Spirit when her children were young. She worked in the Autism Unit at Grafton school, and at the Evans Home for Children for abused and under-privileged children in Frederick County, VA. She has worked in both public and private schools as a teacher and para-professional to children with Autism and those with Learning Disabilities.

Karen has taught ballet since 1985, developing her own Pre-Ballet curriculum over the last three decades, which has given the foundation for many young dancers to succeed and excel in their dance training. She is a licensed MUSIKGARTEN teacher, an Early Childhood Music Program that promotes musical awareness, respect for each other and the world around us, trains the ear, prepares children for both ballet and private music lessons, and promotes literacy and higher-order thinking. Eriksson-Lee has taught students from around the world in Musikgarten and ballet from preschool to pre-professional and is passionate about mentoring children to reach for their dreams.

Karen has three grown children who she home schooled, and who grew up in her studio. They danced in professional productions of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”, and numerous other ballets through the years at the internationally recognized Central PA Youth Ballet where she was on Faculty from 2006-2016 until she resigned to finish up her Master’s Degree. She has written numerous children’s picture books which she is pursuing publication of. Karen loves spending time with her family, and helping her mother with the animals on the family farm. She loves learning, and instilling a love of learning in her students.

Karen is one of the first people you will speak with when calling the Special Services Department, and she is ready to answer questions, help you solve problems, and create strategies to help you in the education of your child!

We also have a team of four graders who grade elementary and high school papers for special needs students.

Course Materials: Elementary

The books for each student are individually selected based upon the student’s needs and learning style. On the elementary level, most of the books are workbook format. This eliminates copying work from a text to paper; the student works directly in the workbook. The books combine visuals with a minimum amount of reading. While these books are not Catholic, they have been reviewed and do not have objectionable content though they omit mention of God.

kids laughing

Because some subject areas offer special challenges, we are stocked with numerous different titles. Handwriting is often a problem for children with Special Needs Department, so we have several courses on our shelves including how to teach handwriting to a left-handed child.

The religion program often used in our department is the Faith and Life series from Ignatius Press. With the clear, concise, and beautifully illustrated text, a child with learning difficulties is more easily motivated to learn.

Seton has been able to obtain a special phonics video program, originally designed for children with dyslexia, which has been used very successfully around the country for children with a variety of reading disabilities. The videos/DVDs with accompanying workbooks may be used by the teacher-parent or by the student for phonics, reading, handwriting, and spelling.

Course Materials: High School

The high school level students who have learning disabilities or difficulties may need a customized curriculum which helps them to approach the materials with more focus and attention to detail, more emphasis on the objective, at a slower pace. In the areas of history and science, for instance, the textbooks are more concise, with short chapters that demand less long-term retention and memory work.

High school English materials concentrate on grammar, composition, and literature. Our department offers selected adapted versions of classics such as Julius Caesar and A Tale of Two Cities, so that our students may gain knowledge of great works but at an appropriate reading level.

Enrollment in the Special Needs Department

In order to have the special curriculum designed and also continued counseling with our staff throughout the year, then an additional fee is required: $150 for grades K – 6 and $225 for grades 7 – 12. We only provide our materials to students enrolled in the Special Needs department. From time to time, a waiting list does exist. The number of students to be accepted in the Special Needs Department is limited by the number of qualified personnel at Seton who can service them.


If you are considering home schooling, we recommend the home schooling handbook written by our director, Dr. Mary Kay Clark, titled Catholic Home Schooling: A Handbook for Parents. Another book for your consideration is Home Schooling Children with Special Needs by a Christian home schooling mother and licensed LD teacher, Sharon C. Hensley.

Another helpful booklet is provided by HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association). Home Schooling Your Special Needs Child answers many questions which parents often present about their special situations. Contact HSLDA at 540-338-5600.

Kathleen Hunt is available Monday through Friday at 540-622-5542 or by e-mail at khunt@setonhome.org. Stephen Costanzo is available at 540-622-5546 or by e-mail at scostanzo@setonhome.org. Karen Eriksson-Lee is available Monday through Friday at 540-622-5558 or keriksson-lee@setonhome.org.The general department e-mail address is ssdept@setonhome.org. Also, if you are enrolled in the phonics video program, you may request future video orders by calling the SEM department at 540-636-9996.

We have recently been made aware of a wonderful online tutoring opportunity with a Catholic special education tutor that we think you may find helpful. Please click here for more information.

The Special Needs Department wants you to have the best home schooling experience possible. May God bless you and your family.

Frequently Asked Questions

My child has a learning disability. Can I home school him?

If you have been working with your child at home doing homework or class work, you are probably aware of his learning style and what works best for him. When you combine this knowledge of your child and curriculum materials which are individually selected for your child by the counselors in the Special Needs Department, the challenge of home schooling your special needs child seems manageable.

What kind of disabilities are serviced by the Special Needs Department?

The Special Needs Department provides curriculums for students with a wide range of disabilities including dyslexia, pervasive developmental disorder, Down syndrome, Aspergers Syndrome, and Attention Deficit Disorder.

Does Seton do an evaluation to determine if a student has a learning disability?

No, an evaluation requires a process to be completed by a doctor or educational consultant who can meet with the student and parents and perform the necessary type of testing.

Is an evaluation necessary for enrollment in the Special Needs Department?

An evaluation is most helpful but not a requirement. The more information we have about a student, the better curriculum we can design.

Do we provide speech and language therapy?


Do you have any books in braille?

No. Some computer programs now allow for the conversion of written text into braille, and some families have done that.

Do you have any of the text books with enlarged type for students with visual problems?

No. Some families have used their computer to provide enlarged type.

Due to his learning disability, a student sometimes takes longer than 12 months to complete an academic curriculum. How does the Special Needs Department accommodate this?

A student enrolled in the Special Needs Department has up to 24 months after the date of enrollment to complete his curriculum before an extension fee is required.

Will the high school report card indicate that a student is taking courses from the Special Needs Department?

The number code for a course from the Special Needs Department is different from the course numbers for Setons regular courses, and SS precedes each course title, for example SS ENG 10. Unless someone contacts Seton about the course, they would not be aware of any accommodation.

Can a student enrolled in the Special Needs Department earn a diploma?

Yes, a student who completes 22 credits of required courses can earn a diploma. The Special Needs Department offers four different diplomas: Modified Academic, Modified General, Vocational, and Basic. The requirements for each diploma are different. The main difference between the diplomas is the required level of reading and math. If you have any questions about diplomas, please call the Special Needs Department and ask to speak with a counselor.

If I choose not to send in work for grades am I still enrolled in the Seton Program?

Technically if the fee is paid you are enrolled in Seton’s program. However, if work is not sent in for grading on a regular basis, you are not actively enrolled. On the grade school level, this means that should you need verification of the student’s progression in his or her studies for your local school district or other agency we will be unable to do any more than say you are enrolled with Seton’s program. On the high school level, it is even more important that work is sent in on a regular basis. Seton is an accredited school. In order to get a diploma a certain number of credits must be reached in specified areas of study. Seton must be able to track progression in these courses to assure understanding and mastery of the material before moving the student along or giving him or her a diploma. If no work is received we cannot issue a diploma, transcripts or proof of progression.

If no student work has been submitted in six months, Seton cannot verify to anyone that a student is actively enrolled. For a student to be actively enrolled, he must submit at least one quarter of work for English, math, and reading during the first 6 months, and must submit at least one quarter of English, math, and reading during the second six months. If the curriculum is extended a second year (SS students have up to 2 years to complete a curriculum before an extension is needed), the same schedule applies during the second year.

If I want to re-enroll my high school student, how much of the current year’s curriculum must be completed before I can get the next year’s curriculum?

English, math, and reading course work must be submitted, completed, and passed for the current year before the next curriculum will be designed.

If a parent insists on a new curriculum being designed and shipped before the current work has been submitted, completed, and passed, the parent must sign a waiver that the student is not striving for a Seton diploma.

If a high school student is re-enrolling in the Special Needs Department, and the 4th quarter of high school English, math, and reading has been received at Seton to be graded but cannot be graded quickly, the next curriculum may be designed and shipped if the AVERAGE grade for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarters of high school English, math, and reading are at least a passing grade. The parent will be informed by the Special Services counselor that if the submitted 4th quarter work is incomplete or failing, a final grade and credit will not be given for that course until the work is completed and passed.

Is the Independent Study option available to students enrolled in the Special Needs Department?

Yes. Students enrolled in the Special Needs Department may complete courses by Independent Study in the same way that students enrolled in the regular program may. The same restrictions apply as well. English, history, and religion courses may not be completed by Independent Study. We encourage students to use the Independent Study option to receive credit for courses that we cannot offer, such as carpentry, art, music, etc. The guidelines for earning credit are the same as with the Seton regular program: 50 hours are required for a half credit, 100 hours for a full credit. The course must be approved in advance, and the student must be enrolled in three Seton courses (either with the regular program or with Special Services). Because students enrolled in Special Needs have paid the Special Needs enrollment fee in addition to the standard enrollment fees, the Independent Study fee is waived for all Independent Study courses completed by students enrolled in the Special Needs Department.

If I need a letter from Seton stating that my child is enrolled in the Special Needs program, what guidelines does Seton use to verify enrollment?

Students are enrolled for one year. After 12 months, enrollment in Special Needs may be extended for an additional year at no additional fee. During this time, since a curriculum was designed and received Seton can verify that a student is “enrolled.” However, in order for Seton to verify that a student is “actively enrolled,” we must receive one quarter of English, Math and Reading for grading in the first 6 months after shipping the curriculum. In the second 6 months we must receive another quarter of English, Math, and Reading for grading. If a student’s enrollment is extended an additional 12 months, we must receive an additional quarter of English, Math, and Reading for grading by month 18 and another by month 24 in order to verify that a student is “actively enrolled.”