Help me!

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-17-2006
Help me!
11
Sat, 11-18-2006 - 12:33am

I just discovered this message board while doing some research for my class. I am a special ed teacher and I am attempting to form a middle/high school community for kids with HFA/Aspergers. I teach at a school for students who have been removed from regular classrooms and from self-contained units due to behavioral issues. Most of our student population has always been kids with conduct disorder (at-risk behaviors) but we have been getting more and more students on the spectrum in the past few years. Their social needs are so different from the rest of the population that we decided last year to attempt to form a "unit" within our special school. I have been thrilled at the initial developments and want to continue to expand the original vision. I have been so impressed by what I've read on this board so far that I thought I'd just jump in and ask.

I understand that home schooling is a necessity at times due to the unique needs of these children but, if you could design a perfect school program for your adolescent with HFA/AS, what would it look like? What have you not been happy with in terms of educational experiences? We are currently at 16 students that we have divided into three classes to reinforce friendships and community building. They have some classes with the rest of the school population but at least several classes with others of their peer group. Any ideas that anyone could give me would be welcomed... I want to create the very best experience I can for these uniquely delightful students.

Thanks!

Beth

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iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
In reply to: as_teacher
Sat, 11-18-2006 - 1:13am

OMG would I love to have that program near us. What a wonderful idea.

Right now I am bushed, I was in class all night, it is late and I am mid way through my glass of wine. I want to give this post the attention it deserves which will be another day.

However, I wanted you to know how much I appreciate what you are doing and that I definitely will be back to write more.

Renee

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iVillage Member
Registered: 06-25-2003
In reply to: as_teacher
Sat, 11-18-2006 - 9:08am

Beth,


Welcome to the board. I love what you are doing. I wish we had one of you in every town.


My kids are younger, -my oldest son, Peter is 8 and HFA. He has some behavioral outbursts and could be a candidate for a program like yours in the future:

-Paula

visit my blog at www.onesickmother.com
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Registered: 04-07-2003
In reply to: as_teacher
Sat, 11-18-2006 - 1:20pm

I agree with the rest. My son is 11 and he is very unique as the rest of ASD kids. Never forget that they can just as smart and intellegent as their peers. If not smart. One minute they may act like little men and women with what they come out with. The next they can be crying and act much younger than their true ages. Flexiblity needs to be combined with a certain amount of structure. I have seen that with out some form of structure my son is lost. He literally needs to be told bring your books home of you need to do a Social studies ditto. For these kids you need to be direct with the words. They need to know everyday. Lunch comes after reading at 12noon. Most of these kids have trouble understanding the abstract.

Reading can be a chore because many of these kids do not understand emotions and can not tell you about it with words. They can read the words they can give what they read back to you. But ask then what it all means is tough. It is why word math problems are hard because like with my son, he can not put the words into pictures.

And with all of the ELA crap, it has gotten to the point where Josh's I thik hates to read. I think he is getting tired of everyone telling him to talk about what he reads. The schools make it hard. And even though a piece of paper says he is 11, I think he prefers to read as if he was in 1st grade.

Josh is a good kid, he tries hard but on stuff he likes. He gets over focused on what he likes. And he tries to sneak off stuff he doesn't like. He has a hard time making friends, but he can be a loyal one. He has a hard time differenciating between joking around and true cruelty. He can be easily taken advantage of if not hurt. I have been usually lucky with who he has gotten aquainted with. Most people seem to realize Josh is unique and fall in love with him. They do try and help him despite himself. See Josh tries to be independent, i try to push it. But sometimes he can be too stubborn and very set in a mind.

And at age 11 that is what he needs to try to be. With the kids you will encounter some will be like Josh. I would love to see what you have to offer.

Rina

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-17-2006
In reply to: as_teacher
Sun, 11-19-2006 - 4:06pm

Thank you, ladies! I am literally taking notes... :)

Paula and Rina,

On the contrary, those are great ideas! I am proud to say that we have already put some of them into practice. I am also going to google The Wilson Program as soon as I'm done with this reply. Any other programs that you can think of that I could get more information about would also be very helpful.

Here's the thing about my program: it is NOT in a regular school. The entire school is about 3 steps removed from a resource program. The "regular kids" in our school are kids who have been removed from regular classrooms and then from behavioral units/clusters due to behaviors that teachers (regular AND special ed teachers) were unable to control in other settings (as were the kids on the spectrum). SO... sparking interest from the regular kids isn't necessarily the best thing all the time. One of the major issues is that most of the kids we have on the spectrum are MUCH smarter than the other kids and they can resent it.

Here's what we've done so far: We took over the entire upper floor of our school (3 classrooms, the faculty room, the psychologist's office and other assorted rooms). We have 5-6 students in each class and two teachers. We are lucky to be the hub of the OT's and PT's for the school district so we have lots of access to them and their information. The OT's are helping us to transform the old custodian's closet (we kicked him downstairs too) into a "break room" which will have all the sensory OT stuff. We also (on the advice of the kids) have stopped using the overhead lights and gone to ambient lighting almost entirely (lamps, lava lamps, etc.). We have 6 classes a day and 1st period is community building for everyone. Mondays, the kids have adaptive PE and the teachers meet about upcoming activities and problems. Tuesdays, we have classroom meetings. Each class has its own name and each student has an "expertise." We take minutes and bring up issues to talk about. It's really cool and we've seen a huge increase in self-advocation because of the peer and teacher support. We use a lot of social stories during this time. Wednesdays, they have PE but we pull kids out for individual appointments. They can request one to discuss their issues or we can insist on one for OUR issues... :) Then, on Thursday, we have game day where we use our cafeteria for the entire group (and the 6 teachers) to play board games, card games and pool (anything interactive- NO gaming systems). It is my favorite day of the week. Fridays, we always have field trips and try to use public transportation to help develop community negotiation skills. Last week, we went to the big city library downtown and the week before, we took thank you notes and treats to the Veteran's Nursing Home for Veterans Day. Community service is something we have been working on as well as flexibility and humor (recognizing it and being funny, really funny, not knock-knock jokes that you make up right then). We tried a computer-based language arts class but it turned out to be kind of a set-up (everyone wanted to do their own thing instead of the language arts curriculum) so we moved the class back to a regular classroom and they are reading "The Giver." They seem to really enjoy the sci-fi nature of the story and I am enjoying the "larger than ourselves" theme that we are able to process about. I understand what you are saying about trouble with the abstract though, Rina. Even though it is frustrating for them, don't you think that it is important to help them learn that? I have seen some kids learn to recognize what I am driving at when I ask those deeper questions. They may not be identifying the information for the same reasons I am (esoteric) but I still see value in it. I know that you, as a mom, want your child to be happy and comfortable and I, as a teacher, want that too. However, I also want to be sure that I am giving them the best educational experience possible and even when change and growth aren't comfortable, I am still sometimes motivated to push to see it happen for the sake of the student's education.

That is actually the biggest problem we have encountered so far. I have the resources to make my students as comfortable as possible in the school setting. BUT... that setting is not "real world" and I don't want to create something completely artificial and then send them out totally unprepared. That's why I insist on community participation every week. I also see the value in community building with their peers. Where's the line? It's not as if they can all go work for Bill Gates and spend days and nights together forever! I sometimes feel that SOME accommodations can be harmful. What do you all think? I guess my goal is to build a "home base" for each student to function from securely and one they can return to when things get overwhelming to avoid the meltdown. But I also want them to stretch and reach and we all know that doesn't come naturally for most of these kids. We want them to be able to function normally enough to fit into the world but we also don't want them to lose what makes them unique. I believe that, if we can nurture their talents and soothe their idiosyncracies, many of them can have huge effects on the world.

I am so happy that I found this board! My background in teaching has been with adolescent juvenile delinquents so this has been a huge shift for me (not comfortable for me either). Reading all the threads is teaching me so much. I'll continue to jump in and ask questions about my situation so please forgive me if it seems like I'm "all about me." I'm focused on making a difference in the educations and lives of kids like yours. Please continue to give me ideas! You are truly the experts.

Thank you!

Beth

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-20-2003
In reply to: as_teacher
Sun, 11-19-2006 - 10:03pm

Heya Beth, welcome to the board.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
In reply to: as_teacher
Sun, 11-19-2006 - 10:06pm

Beth,

Sounds like you are doing alot already that I would suggest. Right now we are trying to get our school district to start an appropriate class for these kids. There is one for kids who can handle mainstream classes but there isn't an option for kids who are academically able but cannot handle mainstream classes.

I really like the community setting piece. Make sure to figure out ways to teach them living skills which include how to be included in the general population. Particularly since these kids are in a specialized school. They do need to learn those skills.

Ya know, I can't think of any recomendations off hand that haven't already been addressed though I will think further. I was thinking of some but my kids are rushing me to watch a movie with them. LOL.

Renee

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iVillage Member
Registered: 11-17-2006
In reply to: as_teacher
Sun, 11-19-2006 - 11:03pm

Those are awesome ideas!

About asking my students' parents... I have. Only a few of them live at home. The majority of all the kids at my school (conduct disorder and on the spectrum) live in group or foster homes. Either their behaviors are severe enough that their parents couldn't handle them at home or their homes are so dysfunctional, they were removed and placed in other homes. The kids who are at home with their parents have parents who have been extremely helpful... about their own kids. While there are similarities, they are all so different that I have felt that I need to seek other information. Unfortunately, these kids are in a system that is most concerned about controlling behaviors, not about personal growth and finding a place in the world. Therefore, many of the group home personnel are focused on avoiding behaviors (which is only a small part of a larger problem). We have started our first PTSA group though and one of our students with AS and his family were the ones who came up with the idea.

Also, great insights about consistency. You are exactly right about possible "change of placements." I will continue to fight and I know this: If something is working and parents and administrators are happy with it, why would they change it, right? (Knock on wood! ;)) It is a good thing to remember on hard days though. When I am doubting what I am doing, remember that consistency is the very least I can give them.

Thanks!

Beth

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iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
In reply to: as_teacher
Mon, 11-20-2006 - 2:18pm

Beth! wow! what a wonderful program you have created!

I don't have much to add except to say that the daily living skills as Renee suggested might be something these kids need, esp since so many are in such dysfunctional situations. These kids need to know how to do basic things like cooking, banking, self care, etc.

My son is in an "academy" in his high school. They have a class called "study skills". They are using the teaching of study skills along with a community outreach project to teach these kids all kinds of skills. They've had to research other communities, schools and lifestyles of kids in lowincome areas of our state. They also have to research the schools in those areas to decide what kind of project to suggest. The class works in groups, individually and corporately. They have done presentations to the class. They've also had to write a couple of proposals. As a class they will actually pick a project suggested by one of the students and then work as a class to impliment that project in another school in which most of the kids are well below the poverty line. The kids in the other school will also help our kids implement what ever project they're doing so they will learn the interpersonal skills of working w/ other people that they don't even know. By doing all these things these kids are learning so much but also doing something important for someone else. They are seeing a large project through but taking manageable steps and learning important study skills along the way.

Is it possible for your kids to do something like this? OR could the build their own "corporation" and keep a bank account and manufacture something, keep inventory, etc. Then use the profits to benefit your program or another program in need in your district (maybe younger ASD kids?). Real world experience is important for our kids.

Betsy

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-2006
In reply to: as_teacher
Fri, 12-01-2006 - 2:40am

If I had a magic wand, my boys would be going to this school....

The School of Arts and Sciences

Location Tallahassee, Fla.
Year First Chartered and Authorized 1999
Local district
Grades K-8
Enrollment 226
English Learners 2%
Subsidized Meals 19%
Special Needs 22%
Per Pupil Spending $5,750

A visitor to this school sees little that is typical of a traditional classroom. Students in multi-age classrooms range across three grades-K-2, 3-5, or 6-8. They are seated collegially at round tables rather than in rows of desks. They may be working on independent seatwork, cooperative learning with a partner or small group, or an interdisciplinary project. The goal sheets and checklists in students' folders let them manage their learning activities. The artifacts students select for their portfolios are an important measure of their achievement. Peer mediation and a student court help maintain school discipline, and all teachers and students are trained in conflict resolution and mediation.

According to Principal Debo Powers, the vision for the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) emerged from a group of educators and parents. The result is a school that centers around beliefs that learning is natural-since human beings are inherently curious-and that academics are only one component of education, best learned through hands-on activities that tap into real interest and through interdisciplinary approaches framed by large themes. High among the qualities valued at SAS are self-motivation, critical thinking, and creative expression. The school's unique curriculum design and program structures dovetail to support its mission "to facilitate individual educational ownership and responsible lifelong learners through interdisciplinary approaches to arts and sciences in a safe and nurturing environment."

SAS greeted its inaugural students in 1999, three years after first seeking a charter from the Leon County School District. Delays getting charter approval were followed with a series of frustrations in finding a suitable facility. In what might have been the last straw, just six weeks before the school was to open in August 1998, the school year had to be cancelled. Another facility had fallen through. The principal and teachers scrambled to find other positions for the year, a year that they turned into an opportunity to think and plan for yet another August. The continuing commitment to open the school was remarkable. "When you think about it," Powers says, "it's just amazing."

The students who are drawn to SAS, teachers estimate, include about one-third who have been home-schooled, one-third who select SAS specifically for its alternative pedagogy, and one-third who choose the school because previous schools did not meet their needs. Currently, SAS has a waiting list of 400 students for the school's 226 places. The student population is 62 percent white, 22 percent African American, and 9 percent Hispanic and Asian American; 22 percent qualify for special education services.

Program and Operations
SAS has three classrooms for each multi-age cluster-primary, intermediate, and middle school. Primary and intermediate classes have a maximum of 25 students and each class has a credentialed teacher and an associate teacher working as a team to facilitate instruction in all academic subject areas. In the middle school, classes rotate to different subject area teachers. Students in all grades take music, drama, art, Spanish, and physical education. Daily hands-on science is also a feature at every level.

Learning is driven by students' curiosity and is focused through a project-based interdisciplinary approach. Arts, science, foreign language, reading, writing, and mathematics are all integrated. For example, older students learning about Asia spent six weeks preparing projects whose topics ranged from sushi to Genghis Khan to modern-day sweat shops in China. Regardless of the topic, their teacher points out, "You get speaking skills, you get writing skills, and you get research skills."

Students stay with the same teacher for a three-year period, so teachers really get to know the individual students.

Instruction at all levels is highly individualized. In a K-2 classroom, where students are working in small groups with math manipulatives, some are learning subtraction using beads, others are learning about number place, while yet another group uses plastic coins to learn addition. Every student has an individual folder, indicating which activities he or she is ready to work on. The two teachers and a parent volunteer circulate around the room, working first with one child and then on to the next, asking questions, assisting, and providing direct instruction and support when necessary. Next door, students in another K-2 classroom work on literacy projects. A small group sits reading a story with one teacher, while another group works at a table with a teacher creating books. A few students work independently on a word game, and it is not easy to tell age or grade distinctions among students within the class.

Teachers find the multi-age classroom a powerful factor for cooperative learning, with older students naturally helping younger ones. Students are taught to work together, support is provided as needed, and no one is restricted from learning more by his or her particular age or grade. The principal explains that the younger students try to emulate the older students, and it raises the standard of work for everyone. SAS students are expected to work toward their personal best and to respect everyone. "No put downs" is an operating principle of the school and contributes to the self-confidence exhibited by students. "It's very, like, peaceful," a middle school student reports. "I've never seen a bully here."

Students stay with the same teacher for a three-year period, so teachers really get to know the individual needs and learning styles of their students. In addition to the continuity this provides, it contributes to the secure learning environment the school strives for. As one student says, "It's really a priority to have respect between the teachers and students. You don't have to be afraid of being embarrassed in front of the class or having them get mad at you. You feel free to talk to them." Students appreciate the freedom they are given to express themselves. For some this manifests in capes and plumes, one enjoys a spot of blue hair.

Teachers describe the natural transition of students who are new to the school and new to taking personal responsibility for their learning. "I don't want to tell them every move to make at every moment," one teacher explains, "so we do a lot of modeling. And we're constantly explaining our way of work. You just watch them flounder for a little while, you know. Their first projects aren't like everybody else's, but when they see what everybody else has done, their next projects are. You can just watch their growth."

Continuous Learning
Each year the staff analyze students' progress and use what they find to develop the schoolwide improvement plan and to set annual goals, which are published in the annual School Public Accountability Report. This process helps to keep teachers, administrators, and parents focused on the mission of the school, in both planning and implementation throughout the school year. Data from standardized tests are part of the mix, even though teachers uniformly say, "We don't teach to the tests."

Teachers do, however, use Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores to inform their practice. In reading, teachers use Scholastic's STAR reading inventory to get a baseline and then measure progress using FCAT scores. In 2002, when FCAT math scores were below the district average in grades 3-5, teachers developed school improvement objectives to focus on math instruction. With a $10,000 grant, they engaged in professional development around multi-age math methods. They adopted a hands-on approach to math instruction for grades K-5. After the training, when the new curriculum was implemented, third-grade FCAT math scores rose from 299 in 2002 to 335 in 2003, exceeding the state and the district averages, and showing an increase of 32 percent. Seventh- and eighth- grade FCAT math scores in 2003 were the highest in the district, and eighth-grade FCAT scores were second in the state, behind a school that admits only gifted students. This year FCAT math and reading scores exceeded the district average at every grade.

In a school with no grades and no report cards, students are very involved in evaluating their own learning. Students select all the work in their portfolios, choosing the work that best demonstrates progress towards academic goals and mastery of the appropriate Sunshine State Standards, as well as the work of which they are most proud. Students organize their portfolios on the basis of the multiple intelligences identified by scholar Howard Gardner.

Parents and Partners
At least twice a year parents meet with their child and the child's teachers to go over the child's portfolio. Typically, a student and his or her parents come in before the scheduled meeting with the teachers so that the child has a chance to orient parents to the portfolio. Then the teachers join them and the teachers talk with the child and ask questions about various pieces of work, with the parents observing. According to one teacher, the process is very affirming: "The child is able to tell, 'This is me. It's all about me.' And it really is."

In a school with no grades and no report cards, students are very involved in evaluating their own learning.

Parents like the fact that the school's developmental approach is grounded in the principles of how children learn and that they can be highly involved in their children's education. For the many parents who home-schooled their children, enrolling them in SAS was the first time they were willing to entrust their children to a public school. Parents also express satisfaction that there is not a lot of homework at SAS, so children have time to develop artistic, theatrical, and musical interests. Almost half of SAS students participate in an after-school program that features specialty classes such as yoga, puppetry, African dance, nature craft, chess, track, moviemaking, and the like.

Six parents serve on the 13-member school board. Other ways SAS parents are involved include personnel hiring, fundraising, acquiring furniture and supplies, providing transportation, maintaining the school building, volunteering in classrooms, supervising on the playground and on field trips, and organizing teacher appreciation events.

Maintaining its early support from educators at nearby Florida State University (FSU), SAS has relationships with a number of programs there: the fine arts museum, the science education department, the family and child services department, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, the music school, and the physics department all contribute to the school. Science mentorships-at FSU and local wildlife centers-have involved students in scientific inquiry and the work of real scientists.

Governance and Accountability
Governance of the school is at several levels. The school advisory council consists of three students, three teachers, three parents, and one board member. Their role is to write the school improvement plan and to recommend individuals for the school board. The 13 board members make a three-year commitment, with a third of the members changing each year. Their role is to set policy, oversee finances, and evaluate the principal. Each spring the board engages in strategic planning. The school also has a teacher leadership council, student government, and PTSO. A management team includes the principal, assistant principal/CFO, and the office staff.

Parents like the fact that the school's developmental approach is grounded in the principles of how children learn.

SAS has a supportive, positive relationship with its charter authorizer, the local Leon County School District. SAS is electronically connected to the district database system and has access to district e-mail. The principal attends district principals' meetings, and SAS staff are welcome to participate in district professional development opportunities. The district provides physical plant consultation and inspections, and SAS pays the district for food, transportation, and insurance services. The school also pays the district 5 percent of its state and federal funding.

The school operates on an annual budget of about $1.3 million, which includes funding of about $5,000 per pupil. Finances are tight, and board members look enviously at the half-cent sales tax revenue that other Leon County public schools receive. Yet when the school's state funding was cut by $60,000, instead of economizing by leaving a position vacant when the music teacher took maternity leave, parents raised the money necessary to continue the music program.

Success is measured many ways at the School of Arts and Sciences. Recent FCAT math and reading scores exceeded the district average at every grade. Seventh- and eighth-grade math scores were the highest in the district, with the eighth-grade scores ranking second in the state. Last year only one teacher left the school. Not a single student was on a behavior contract. A teacher laughingly recalls the complaints from members of the Student Court. "They think everybody is too good. They never have enough court time." Another teacher reflects on the compassion engendered in the students. "When extremely low, low, low kids get up to do their presentations, the audience is rapt. I mean these kids cannot give them enough attention and support."

For Principal Powers, the performance of SAS middle school students at last year's Model United Nations Conference at FSU is emblematic. Two middle schools were invited and all the other teams were from high schools. "Well, they gave six awards, and our students took three of them. Afterward, we were saying, 'How did our kids win against those high school students? They're obviously younger, they haven't had as much experience, they're not any smarter. What is it?' I think it's that they get to speak and perform in an environment where you're not laughed at, ridiculed, put down, made fun of, so they develop this kind of confidence. They can get up there and they can put together their ideas and communicate. That's success to me."

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-03-2004
In reply to: as_teacher
Fri, 12-01-2006 - 6:02am

Both the original poster's description of her program AND this description of this school made me cry. My boy needs schools like this. Esp. the charter school here, as he needs good inclusion... Solid, supportive inclusion, dammit. Which dosesn't exist here.

Although 25 in a room is still too many for him.

Sara
ilovemalcolm

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