How we built a whole-child, wraparound approach to special education

At the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Ulster Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES), we have developed the architecture to accomplish and codify a leadership approach to help schools consider how to reach our most marginalized and vulnerable students.

Four years ago, my team and I designed, planned, and implemented a research-based, whole-child wraparound approach to special education. To get our initial pilot off the ground, we brought in stakeholders from across our organization: teachers, teaching assistants (TAs), aides, counselors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists, positive intervention team members, administrators, and the wider community, along with content area experts through our instructional services.

The pilot grew from five classrooms into a full-school implementation in the second year due to the county’s demand and the success of the program. We recently had the honor of presenting our model to stakeholders from across the country at AESA’s most recent conference.…Read More

COVID-era teletherapy authorizations are expiring, but the problem persists

COVID-19 safety guidance has been relaxed and schools have returned to in-person learning, but it’s not yet time to breathe a sigh of relief. Many schools continue to encounter challenges in effectively serving their students, faced with special education staff shortages, backlogs of evaluations, and a youth mental health crisis.

Before the pandemic, a complex web of restrictions limited the ability of schools to leverage online services. From professional associations to state licensure boards, virtual therapy and evaluation services were discouraged or prohibited. In some cases, new graduates were prevented from obtaining their necessary practice hours through remote work. Many states imposed extensive barriers to allowing a licensed therapist to serve students across a state border, slowing down the ability to serve students through teletherapy.

These boards and associations then moved quickly to lift restrictions and clarify guidance to prioritize serving children in need. But as often happens in times that call for rapid action, these changes were made with a short-term mentality. Most of the removal of barriers to teleservices was done through temporary waivers and allowances, rather than taking action to permanently include remote and online services as a solution to serving the growing number of students with special education or mental health needs. These decision makers did not imagine the long-lasting impact of the pandemic, and they did not anticipate the evolution of educational services to a more technology-forward model.…Read More

Special education students need a whole child approach

In early 2020, 7.3 million students received special education services as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s 14% of K–12 students in public schools in the United States who depend on additional—and often very specialized—services to support their ability to learn and live their lives fully.

But once the pandemic set in and schools closed their doors, the elaborately precarious systems that have been constructed to meet the needs of these students collapsed.

In October 2020, a little more than two- thirds of K-12 principals estimated that their students with disabilities would perform somewhat or much lower than they had before the pandemic. A year later, a November 2021 survey by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates—an advocacy group for students in special education and their families—found that 86% of parents reported that their child experienced learning loss, skill regression or slower-than-expected progress in school.…Read More

Presence Introduces New Therapy Platform to Enrich the Clinician Experience

NEW YORK – Presence, the leading provider of online therapy solutions for children with diverse needs, launches Kanga, a modern therapy platform for clinicians who serve children. Special education caseloads in schools have continued to rise, increasing backlogs, and driving clinician burnout. Presence is expanding the tools available to clinicians in schools, agencies, and independent practices. The technology company has developed a robust, clinician-designed online therapy platform for their own network of teletherapy providers, and made a version of it available to schools during the pandemic.

“Kanga was designed to respond to the challenges and opportunities our clinicians have experienced in their own practice,” said Kate Eberle Walker, CEO of Presence. “The resulting platform is a combination of their expertise and 13 years of our own data on how special education providers and students engage in therapy and evaluations.”

Presence is offering a free version of the platform for clinicians interested in exploring how they can incorporate technology into their therapy planning, documentation, and delivery. The free version gives access to a rich library of resources and caseload management features, including tools for documenting and tracking session notes and student profiles. It also allows them to conduct up to eight 30-minute teletherapy sessions a month. Individual clinicians can sign up for the free version of Kanga through Presence’s website.…Read More

How staff absences impact educator burnout

The average day in a K-12 school has little margin for error; educators have perfected the art of stretching resources. Yet the typical day rarely goes as planned. Staff absences are on the rise this year, and for each person who is out, others are asked to stretch themselves to make it work.

“We have staff who are consistently giving up prep periods to cover for absences, absorbing additional classes, and taking on higher caseloads,” shared one special education director who noted the extra strain staff are experiencing this year.

Research on school staff absences in the past has focused primarily on the impact on students, and the facts are clear that students suffer setbacks when facing chronic staff absences. These absences have been shown to be more prevalent in low income schools, a scary prospect when compounded with the other areas of disparate impact through the pandemic seen in reduced educational progress and increased mental health challenges in low income schools.…Read More

Virtual schools can serve students with special needs—and do it well

The pandemic brought special education to the forefront of the dialogue about education, with the media focus mainly directed at sharing stories of students separated from the in-school supports that they had come to rely upon, and parents struggling to plug the gaps.

While the challenges were undeniable, there was also a more quietly growing chorus of stories from parents whose children experienced virtual education for the first time and found that the personalization and environmental stability it brought led to positive outcomes. When it comes to serving students with disabilities, a fully virtual school experience may, at the outset, seem like a less than ideal or even an improbable concept. But there can be compelling benefits.

“When I first began working with students virtually, I was skeptical that the therapeutic environment could be replicated online,” said Robin Corder, EdS, NCSP, who won the Idaho School Psychologist of the Year Award in 2020. “I was very wrong about that.”…Read More

A fresh perspective on VR in special education

In early 2021, Spaulding Academy & Family Services applied for and received a technology grant from the Flutie Foundation for the purchase of virtual reality (VR) headsets. 

We are a small, nonprofit special education school serving students with a wide range of abilities, including many who are on the Autism Spectrum and/or have limited mobility, and it was very important to us from the onset that we use this technology to meet the needs of all our students.

Selecting a VR solution…Read More

Where do IEPs stand two years into COVID?

There’s no doubt that every student lost valuable in-person school time over the last two school years. But students with IEPs faced additional challenges keeping pace during remote or hybrid learning.

Now that students have generally returned to their school buildings, educators are preparing for customary IEP reviews and progress reports. However, they are likely juggling a caseload that includes students who were not able to get IEPs during remote learning, not to mention a backlog of new IEP referrals that stacked up while our students have been transitioning between in-person, remote and hybrid situations.

Fallout from the last two years includes students who have had no in-person education for 12-18 months and special education teachers who were unable to work face-to-face with many of their students. We’ve also seen the teacher shortage grow, with many retiring or moving into other careers because of the stress, or having to quarantine as new strains of COVID arise. The combination of these factors makes it difficult to keep up with a caseload under normal circumstances, adding to the frustration for everyone.…Read More

Aperture Education Expands its Research and Development Team

Charlotte N.C. (Jan. 28, 2022) — Aperture Education, the leading provider of research-based social and emotional learning (SEL) assessments for K-12 schools, is expanding its Research and Development (R&D) department to support product development as the company grows. The expanded department will direct and participate in research that can be translated into meaningful, applicable results for schools and districts. To lead the expanded team, Aperture has hired Dr. Evelyn Johnson, a former professor of special education at Boise State University, as the department’s new vice president.

“Aperture’s primary differentiation is the rigor of the research that goes into developing our products and monitoring their effectiveness. We have been working to expand our R&D capacity to handle the growing demands for SEL in schools and out-of-school time organizations,” said Aperture CEO Jessica Adamson. “Dr. Johnson has a wealth of experience and her vision aligns with our mission as a company. She is a great fit to help advance Aperture’s commitment to data-driven SEL.”

Dr. Johnson is an important part of an impressive R&D team at Aperture which has extensive experience in SEL. As part of the department’s expansion, Aperture also hired Dr. Joseph Mahoney as Senior Research Scientist. Mahoney previously served as assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and senior research scientist at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Matt Buczek also joined the team as Research Associate. He has a master’s of education degree in Statistics, Measurement, Assessment, and Research Technology (SMART) and has been working in the research field for the past five years. Others on the team include Jennifer Robitaille, who has more than a decade of experience in research and evaluation to support SEL programs, Research Assistant Emily Parker, and SEL Strategy Developer Samantha Hagans. The team is supported by well-known SEL experts Paul LeBuffe, Valerie Shapiro, and Jack Naglieri, among others, who serve as long-standing consultants for Aperture.…Read More

Schools, at halftime, need to put funding into play for the second half of the year

As we enter into another winter season living with the pandemic, special education services are not where schools hoped they would be, with many feeling that they are still falling behind rather than beginning to catch up.

New York City recently announced delays to its academic recovery program for students with special needs. New York, like many others, is stretching limits to get programs activated, even allowing for educators not specifically trained in special education to staff programs. In addition to the urgency they are feeling every day to serve parents and children, there’s another good reason to expand programs right now: funding.

It was good news when states and districts received $190 billion in federal aid from three relief packages in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. But it’s a jaw-dropping amount of money, with limits on when and how to use it for special education. For once, the challenge on the ground for schools is not how to manage a tight budget. It’s how to manage the rush of money that’s available: when to get it, how best to use it, and how to be accountable for it.…Read More