Throughout the Commonwealth, Intermediate Units are serving their communities and students. Check out our IU Spotlights to learn more about some of their efforts:
An old Tastykake delivery truck is getting an overhaul and a new life compliments of the students of the Schuylkill Technology Center (STC) operated by Schuylkill IU #29.
To accomplish this transformation, all of STC's instructional shops are involved in the Food Truck Project. Starting with auto body, paint, engine shop, electrical, plumbing and carpentry for the exterior and interior rehab. Then students from the computer information, marketing and health careers will finalize licensing and other details. Lastly, culinary will develop menus and operate the truck. A school wide venture.
Through community support and donations, the food truck will provide its catering services in the community providing students with ongoing work experience.
View the video with Culinary Instructor Jim Gurscik detailing the Food Truck Project.
For most people, a simple grocery run starts with internalizing the items needed – bread, milk, eggs – and succeeds when they recognize those products on the shelves and take them to checkout.
But many people with autism lack those enjoined skills of naming things and taking action with them. Without those abilities, the daily tasks demanded in the school years and beyond can be unmanageable.
Now, ARIN IU 28’s use of the evidence-based practice of “joint control” is helping students with autism and other disabilities gain the social and communications skills needed for success.
With joint control, initiated after careful assessment of needs, students learn first to “tact,” or name everyday items, actions, prepositions, adverbs, and adjectives. The process gives them an internal library of things to talk about.
Next, they learn to echo to themselves what they’re told or instructed. Put the two practices together, and students can, at the most basic level, grab their crayons – now that they’ve “tacted” the term – and join their classmates when the teacher tells them to gather around.
And when the teacher is reading out loud, these students can “echo” elements of the story to themselves and ask relevant questions later.
“Those are all foundational skills that we combine and recombine to create more complex behaviors – in other words, become better communicators,” says Jan Foister, of the IU 28 Training and Consultation (TaC) Team, Autism/Inclusive Practices. “We teach kids to be verbally present.”
As Special Education Director David Norris puts it, “You can’t get to reading and math and science and social studies until we get to those communication levels.”
Winners include students who discover that their interests have workforce applications, businesses assured a steady supply of workers, and schools implementing Pennsylvania’s Career Education and Work Standards to prepare students for career fulfilment.
For its part in the partnership, BVIU works with the partnership to plan the annual, middle school-focused Energy & Advanced Manufacturing Day, held at Community College of Beaver County. Students from 14 school districts and public charter schools explore interactive displays on construction, oil and gas exploration, robotics, electronics, and other fields. At a specially designed food truck, students jumped on a device to power the griddles that fried crepes. One exhibitor has immersed students in welding – safely, through virtual reality glasses.
At the event, students hear real-life people – from women in engineering, to a stand-up comedian who switched to marketing – talk about how they went from childhood interests to academic studies to satisfying careers.
By targeting middle school, the event helps students create academic tracks pointing toward their career interests, “before their high school courses are set in stone,” Hughes said.
To educate parents on the possibilities inherent in manufacturing careers, BVIU is also helping the partnership plan a unique event in spring 2019. Families will be invited to an awards ceremony for a video contest, sponsored by Catalyst Connections, that sends out student teams to answer the question, “What’s so cool about manufacturing?”
BVIU is proud to be part of the Energy and Advanced Partnership, which provides the experiences that spark student’s career interests, said Hughes.
“Four-year college degrees are not necessarily the right career path for every student,” said Hughes. “Everyone has different learning styles and learning strengths that might be better met via a two-year or certification program. Exposing students to a variety of career options and choices early in their academic life could set the stage for fulfilling careers that match their expertise.”
Chester County Intermediate Unit’s (CCIU) Perfect Attendant is an innovative solution for students in grades K-12 who are in a restricted setting, allowing them full access to their comprehensive educational program as well as the ability to build and maintain peer relationships. Students are able to raise their hand in class, say hi to their classmates in the hallway and eat lunch with their friends.
Rachel McGlynn, CCIU educational consultant, explained, “The impact of a student getting to participate so fully via the robot is very moving. When you hear the teacher taking attendance in class, and you hear the student say, ‘Here!’ through the Perfect Attendant, you just can’t help but smile.”
Perfect Attendant creates a holistic approach to education and fosters an inclusive and accepting environment in schools by exposing students to non-traditional circumstances. Students are getting an example at an earlier age on how to accept those who may be "different” than them.
“The Perfect Attendant can provide a really vital emotional boost for a student in a challenging situation. The ability to stay ‘caught up’ with your social world and experience education with your peers is something we can provide to students through this very simple technology. It may seem like a small thing, but especially for an adolescent, this can mean everything,” McGlynn continued.
Ashley DeStephano, mother of a student utilizing Perfect Attendant, confirmed, “It’s as if she was right there in the classroom like every other student... it’s more than what we could ever hope for.”
At each phase of their school lives, students have different needs. Elementary students are building a foundation of basic academics. Middle school students sort through a jumble of social, emotional, and personal issues. Many high schoolers wonder how they’ll get through the college application process.
Every year, Montgomery County IU 23 offers fun, engaging summer camps for nonpublic school students facing those very issues. As a result, students build the confidence to tackle learning and life, and their parents see schooling in a fresh light.
MCIU is Pennsylvania’s second-largest provider of nonpublic school services. In a county rich with high-quality public and nonpublic schools, MCIU directly employs more than 70 teachers, counselors, speech therapists, and psychologists who help nonpublic-school students overcome barriers to learning.
The free, week-long summer camps emerged from the idea of connecting staff with nonpublic students after the school year ends. Topics are offered by grade level:
Jump Start to 1st Grade prepares children for school through fun and games that reinforce early reading and math skills.
Mind Fun, for 4th and 5th graders, offers hands-on activities in comprehension, problem-solving, and other foundational skills of reading and math.
Two leadership camps – separate for middle school girls and boys – immerse students in activities that promote team building and relationship management. At the middle school camps, high school seniors are trained to act as mentors.
Negotiating the College Process guides upcoming seniors through creating admissions strategies, writing the all-important essay, and other facets of college applications. At week’s end, the camp goers – many striving to be the first in their families to attend college – experience actual interviews with local college recruiters.
MCIU Director of Non-Public Services Dr. Kenneth E. Voss sees the impact on students from first day to last, as apprehension gives way to “smiles and beaming faces.” For students and parents, the summer camps provide a new outlook on school and teachers.
“They see that we’re able to take what we do, our skills and our talents from the classroom, and apply it to fun situations that also enable the students to learn,” Voss says. “It’s a summery, fun activity. It’s a much different take on learning.”
When a student suffering brain injury after a stroke was not thriving in an approved private school, his district turned to Bucks County IU 22 for help. From there, what started as a class of one grew into the BucksIU Brain Injury Program, a comprehensive program guiding students through the transition from brain injury back to daily life and school.
Many factors – not just concussions from sports-related collisions – cause brain injuries. Students suffering the effects of such causes as meningitis, chemotherapy, or car crashes grapple with distinct challenges. In this atmosphere, IU 22 expanded beyond BrainSTEPS, the Pennsylvania brain injury school re-entry program, into a customized “link between rehab and school,” said Program Director Marguerite Vasconcellos.
“Students aren’t shoehorned,” she said. “Each brain injury results in a unique, distinctive student profile. We meet each student where they are and take them where they need to go.”
While some students might receive physical therapy or instruction in a specially equipped IU classroom, most get supports delivered directly to their schools. Teachers are trained in their students’ new learning needs and styles. Parents – often reeling from the dramatic changes in their children – get access to support groups and community resources, such as a local climbing wall equipped with a wheelchair harness.
Some students whose plans for post-secondary schooling are sidetracked get help transitioning to adult day programs “so they have a place,” said Team Leader Sara Krusen. “They have a social circle. They have a purpose.” One former student with physical limitations now volunteering to do data entry at his old elementary school “has quality of life. He’s a part of his community.”
Between the IU classroom, counseling, and support for families and school staff, the program serves 20 to 25 students in 13 school districts. For those districts, the BucksIU Brain Injury Program delivers least-restrictive services close to home.
“Our districts know they have a place to turn when they can’t do it themselves,” said Vasconcellos. “We certainly never want our class to be filled to capacity. But we’re here, and because we have built a legacy of customization, the districts continue to turn to us.”
Teachers have long meted out discipline to deal with disruptive or disengaged students. Now, Colonial IU 20 is helping educators turn down the volume on student disruptions and amp up the sense of security by understanding the impact of trauma on behavior and brain development.
The IU’s training in Trauma-Informed Care and Trauma-Informed Schools is improving classroom atmospheres and could boost academic achievement.
Children may experience trauma through sexual or physical abuse, witnessing domestic violence, fleeing violence as refugees, natural disasters, and other forces beyond their control. For some, the brain adopts a constant fight-or-flight mode, causing withdrawal or behaviors that look like ADHD, dissociation, or other mental health challenges.
“Once you get that label, it starts to dictate a path in which the professionals, the kids, and the families not only see themselves but also how we interact,” said Colonial IU 20’s Director of Resolve Behavioral Health Services James McDonald. “Through this training, teachers see behaviors through a trauma lens.”
Training in Trauma-Informed Care takes a three-step approach:
Understanding that trauma impacts everyone and can alter the brain’s adaptive systems. “Some days, kids are able to learn,” said Supervisor of Clinical Support Nikki Baker. “Other days, they’re not.
Learning to build appropriate relationships and signal that the child is safe.
Self-care for school personnel who, like emergency first responders, experience trauma vicariously and may be subject to burnout.
Trauma-informed care helps address the academic consequences of significant trauma that include interfering with a “learning-ready brain” and contributing to chronic absence, lower grades, and higher risk of dropping out. Some research has shown that a focus on social and emotional learning improved academic outcomes by 11 percent to 17 percent, according to Lehigh University researcher Dr. Christopher Liang. (1)
Demand for the training is growing, and increasingly, schools are instilling trauma-informed care among all staff, from teachers to cafeteria workers. Some districts are building continuums into their systems, assuring that children progress from elementary to middle to high school in trauma-informed atmospheres.
“Through the decades, education has been grounded in consequence-based interventions, like suspension, expulsion, and detention,” said McDonald. “Trauma-informed care pushes people to shift their mindset to reinforcement-based intervention and individualized-based intervention. That’s a huge paradigm shift. It’s tough for some people, and others get to it easily and gracefully, but when they do, oftentimes the behaviors we’re talking about go dramatically down.”
iCreate is a technology-focused STEM program out of the NEIU 19 Technology Department that aims to bring engaging cross-curricular STEM experiences to classrooms in the districts NEIU 19 serves. Providing Common Core Standards Aligned projects ranging from pre-K to 12th grade, this exciting program has been putting 21st century tools into the hands of both students and teachers to enhance the learning process for the past two years. Students create something during each learning project and construct their own knowledge along the way.
“We bring all the supplies and equipment necessary to provide a robust experience for the students we serve,” says Alexandra Konsur, iCreate Co-founder. Example projects include engineering with robots, computer coding with drones, electrical sculpture with squishy circuits and three dimensional design using 3D printing…to name just a few.
iCreate staff regularly showcase example lesson projects on their Project Showcase page at http://icreatestem.org/projects/, and have designed summer camps for hundreds of students in grades 3-8. “We feel strongly that STEM thinking is something all students need access to regardless of their backgrounds. That’s why we work with both public and private institutions and deliver straight-to-student programs afterschool, on weekends and during the summer,” says Konsur.
One of the best things about their program is the integration of Art/Design in the projects. Stephanie Williams, iCreate Co-founder feels,“the Art/Design isn’t forced and doesn’t need its own place in STEM because it truly is in every aspect of it. Regardless if you call it an outline, layout, schematic, thumbnail or blueprint, these are things we have students do before they begin so they have a plan for their vision. Without this, the project prototypes and resultant revisions aren’t as strong as the ones where the student teams went through this process. This is what makes iCreate so powerful: we teach students to realize design is in everything they see and touch.”
iCreate allows districts to implement STEM in a low-risk, high reward way because IU personnel, tools and supplies are utilized to help keep district costs low. “While working with the students in class, we also provide support and co-plan with the classroom teachers so that they can grow in their knowledge and professional practice in STEM. There’s no better way to see a teacher grow than to watch their students learn with us,” says Konsur.
The time is past for schools “to dip their toes into STEM,” says Rich Mackrell, Curriculum Director. “They’re at the point where they need to define what STEM means for their school.”
And once that definition is crafted, schools must commit to instructing not only students on the daily applications of STEM but teachers, too. Luzerne IU 18’s unique partnership with educator-development firm LearnSTEMic LLC guides school districts in defining their visions and developing implementation plans built around personalized teacher professional development.
The effort grew from the IU’s personalized training approach, as districts sought STEM professional development solutions that are “manageable, scalable, and affordable,” said Grieco.
The goal is eliminating mismatched lessons and delivering a shared educational continuum as students scale each level of STEM learning, said IU 18 Executive Director Anthony Grieco.
By weaving STEM learning into all aspects of the classroom and connecting to STEM applications in the real world, schools upend “the misconception that STEM is only for high flyers,” said Grieco, whose IU offers a tapestry of STEM programs under the vision of STEM4ALL. “There’s STEM everywhere.”
IU 18’s Practical STEM professional development blends its training strengths with LearnSTEMic’s technology and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s curriculum. Required classroom exercises built into professional development modules give teachers the confidence to test STEM concepts – even if the class is music or physical education – and collect feedback from students.
Past training modules often imposed “no expectations that teachers would take these assignments into the classroom with the kids,” said Mackrell. “This is practical stuff that teachers can use right away.”
Teachers also share results with each other, in their own schools or at regional events, “speaking the same language and learning together,” said Grieco. “They’re building a professional learning community and collaborating inside their schools. Some of the best professional development comes when teachers are learning from one another or feeling supported enough that they can carry out new things in the classroom.”
Abbi was so excited to join her classmates one morning that she told her parents, “Get me up. I have to get dressed. I have school." Another day, Abbi was proud to say that she had met the new principal, just as her sisters had.
The fact that Abbi, who can’t be exposed to germs, did all this without leaving her home is thanks to a “Double Robotics telepresence robot.” It might sound like something from a 1950s sci-fi movie, but for students in BLaST Intermediate Unit 17, it’s a real-life device that connects homebound students to their classrooms.
The technology links iPads placed in the classroom and the student’s home to allow real-time video and voice communication. The classroom iPad is attached to a robot that the student can control, perhaps zooming in on the teacher, shifting with the classroom, and even joining group activities.
In one case, a high school student with multiple disabilities kept real-time pace with her schoolwork, with less need for tutors and in-home instruction. A 14-year-old boy undergoing cancer treatments “was excited to chat with his friends,” says Dana Vermilya, IU 17 assistive technology consultant. “Just having that peer interaction is huge.”
In Wyalusing School District, a kindergartner with medical needs named Abbi has joined her class since the school year began. One day, after Abbi had missed class due to a technical glitch, her classmates “were excited to have her back,” says Vermilya.
“The students in the classrooms seem to be very receptive,” says Vermilya. “I think they think the technology is exciting, and it becomes part of their normal routine.”
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