Monday, November 26, 2012

Don Peek - Pleasant Memories – Pleasant People


Pleasant Memories – Pleasant People

I spent twenty years working in a couple of public schools in Northeast Texas.  I served as a teacher, an assistant high school principal, a high school counselor, a middle school principal, and a district assistant superintendent.  All along the way I built up a host of memories of special needs students.  I have to say that after many years, foremost in my mind are the positive ones I had with these special education students.

I’ll never forget a sixth grade boy I had in my first world geography class.  I was 20, right out of college, and I had no idea how to teach, much less teach a student with special needs.  He was a little different from other students, but he was friendly and very smart.  I was amazed at his terrible handwriting.  I was also amazed that he had an immediate grasp of material one day and sometimes couldn’t remember a bit of it the next.

Finally, toward the end of the second semester, his mother met with me and told me about his past.  He had fallen from a porch when he was young and hit his head.  He was brain damaged.  The two most evident results of this brain injury were his terrible handwriting and his short-term memory loss.  I was young, the year was 1972, and I’m sure we didn’t have the greatest special education services at that time in the small school district where I taught.  At least, from that point forward, I knew to investigate and get help when students didn’t function the way I felt that they should.  I still think of that small boy and the ways that I failed him, but I also remember how smart and how funny he was.  Overall, he is very pleasant memory for me.

When I was an assistant high school principal, I was much more involved with special education students as a whole, mainly because I wanted to be.  I remember talking to a parent who had twin high school sons.  They had a low intelligence level, but they were two of the most cooperative, happy people I’ve ever met.  I once told their mother not to worry about their futures.  As long as they kept their personalities and their smiles they would be fine.  I wouldn’t have hesitated to hire them in a dozen different settings where they would interact with the public.

When I changed high schools, still as assistant principal, I worked with a group that went to a sheltered workshop each day.  I remember two students especially.  One was a young man with Down syndrome.  He was always available for a nice hug and almost always had a smile on his face.  I remember being concerned about his future, but I remember always feeling good when I was around him.  He made me feel better.

Another young man in that group was severely autistic.  He had large calluses on one hand where he repeatedly chewed on it.  He also hit his head on walls when he was extremely upset – even if it was brick, but unless he was having some type of problem at the moment, he was always good for a handshake and a smile.  I know he always made me smile, and that is the main memory I have of him.

Finally, when I was a middle school principal, I had one young man on campus in a motorized wheelchair.  He was a card.  He raced around the school like a drag racer.  He often gave people rides.  He even cut wheelies in the breezeway at lunch.  I would find him in the center of a circle of students cutting up for them.

That young man will be confined to that wheelchair for the rest of his life, but rather than complain about his handicap, he found ways to have fun himself and entertain those around him.  He was just fun to me around.

I now realize as I finish writing this blog that these memories are all of male students.  I have no idea why that is, but I do know that each of these young men I’ve mentioned hold a very special place in my memories, not because of their handicaps, but in spite of them.
Grant Name:  BWI Summer Reading Program Grant

Funded By:  American Library Association

Description:  This grant is designed to encourage outstanding summer reading programs by providing financial assistance, while recognizing ALSC members for outstanding program development. The applicant must plan and present an outline for a theme-based summer reading program in a public library. The program must be open to all children (birth -14 years). The committee also encourages innovative proposals involving children with physical or mental disabilities.

Program Areas:  Library, Disabilities

Recipients:  Public School, Private School, Higher Ed, Other

Proposal Deadline:  12/1/12

Average Amount:  $3,000.00

Telephone:  312-280-4026

Availability:  All States

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Don Peek - Prinicipals: Do You Have Quality Special Education Teachers?

Prinicipals:  Do You Have Quality Special Education Teachers?
I never wanted to be a special education teacher.  I don’t know if I simply didn’t have the patience or maybe I just never thought I would be good at it.  I do remember having special education students mainstreamed into my classroom and not really knowing how to handle them.  I was really young when I started teaching (only 20 years old), and when I look back, I know I didn’t do a very good job even with my regular education students.  I know I must have failed my special education students miserably.
Because I had a degree in English and I could see how severe the reading problems were in my school, I did gravitate to Title 1 reading.  I think both my patience and my ability to reach these students increased the longer I taught in that Title 1 classroom, and I probably did a much better job with all of my students when I went back to the regular classroom to teach.
After eight years, I became an assistant principal.  I also became an advocate for special education students, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many ARD meetings I attended over the next 10 years as either an assistant principal or a principal.  I did my best to make sure each student’s IEP was the right one for that student.  It didn’t matter if it dealt with discipline or the actual academic program of the student, I was involved and I, wanted the right decisions made, not just for the meeting to be over so we could start the next one.
Another thing I learned during my first 15 years in education was that many principals, especially old-school principals, were not good at hiring and firing teachers.  They didn’t spend enough time in interviews, and they didn’t do enough checking on background and references.  Probably the worst practice I saw during this time was that of moving inadequate teachers to different positions rather than letting them go.
The very worst practices that I saw at that time were the moving of teachers who failed to cut it in the regular classroom to the position of special education teacher or librarian.  I’ve heard the excuse a hundred times if I’ve heard it once, “They can’t do the job in the regular classroom, so we’ll move them to a position that has the least impact on the smallest number of students.”  That logic drove me crazy then, and it drives me crazy now.  Sure those teachers had to go back to school and get certification to stay in the special education position, but that usually helped the situation very little.
Even though I know teachers who do a wonderful job in the library, I believe only good, certified librarians should be in charge of a library.  And, boy oh boy, in a special education classroom, you need the best, the most highly trained and certified, and the most patient teachers in the school.  If you don’t fill those positions with those kinds of teachers, you’re looking for disaster, and you’re likely to find it.
Not only that, you are cheating special education students out of a solid education that they probably need more than any other students in the schoolhouse.  Why anyone would put a person who was ineffective in a regular classroom in charge of a special education classroom is beyond me.
Principals, if a teacher can’t cut it, do your job.  Do the observations, take the notes, write the letters.  Move those teachers out.  Don’t move them where they will hurt children even more than they were in a regular classroom.
Yes, I’m on my soapbox.  I’ll admit that.  But once you’ve seen this happen through the years over and over and over, it starts to work on you.   You feel really sorry for the great special education teachers and the wonderful librarians who are extraordinarily capable at their jobs, and you develop great sympathy for the special education students who are so negatively impacted by these decisions and who have little voice or power to get the situation corrected.
Grant Info:
Grant Name:  Dreyfus Foundation Educational Grants
Funded By:  The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.
Description:  Giving on a national basis for museums, cultural, performing, and visual arts programs, schools, hospitals, educational and skills training projects, and programs for youth, seniors, and people who are handicapped. No grants to individuals and no support for foreign charitable organizations.
Program Areas:  Arts, General Education, Handicapped, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies
Recipients:  Public School, Private School, Higher Ed, Other
Proposal Deadline:  11/10/12
Average Amount:  $1,000.00 - $20,000.00
Telephone:   202-337-3300
Availability:  All States

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Activity Guide - Gel Spiral Pad

The team at Achievement Products asked our consultant, Occupational Therapist Scott Russo, to provide some activity suggestions for incorporating some of our favorite items into daily classroom activities or curriculum.

Scott has provided some really great and creative ways to use items (that may have been originally designed for typically developing children), in special needs environments.

Today we will look at the Gel Spiral Pad.


The gel spiral pad provides a fantastic overall sensory experience while increasing finger and hand strength, and improving visual-motor control. The texture of the gel combined with its bright but soothing colors provides the perfect combination of tactile and visual input in a non-threatening manner to the sensory defensive child. The gel provides resistance for finger and hand strengthening as well a visual-motor challenge as the child tries to maneuver the embedded plastic pieces through the maze.

Activity Ideas:

Use the pad for sensory exploration. Have the child free play with fingers and palms across the surface of the pad. Cool the pad in a refrigerator before use for increased sensory input.

Place the Gel Spiral Pad on a light table for added visual stimulation, to reduce boredom and increase attention span.

Use the pad to develop finger isolation and strength. Indicate a finger for use on each hand and have the child use only that finger to move the plastic pieces, or simply to trace the spirals. Switch fingers at random intervals or when fatigue is noticed.

Time the child and see how fast he/she can get the plastic pieces through the maze.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Don Peek - Other Health Impairment


Other Health Impairment

From time to time I will highlight one of the disabilities that may make students eligible for special education services.  Remember, however, that I do say “may make students eligible” because not only does a disability have to be present, but it must impact the education of a student in a negative way if the impairment is to qualify a student for special education services.

Some disabilities would obviously quality students for services such as blindness and deafness.  For others, students have to be given a battery of tests to determine eligibility.  Such is the case with learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities.  Another category that may qualify a student for services is termed “other health impairment”.

IDEA’s definition of OHI states that “Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that –

(i)                Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome, and

(ii)              Adversely affects a child’s educational performance.”

This is not an exhaustive list and some other health impairments may also qualify, such as:

·        Fetal alcohol syndrome

·        Bipolar disorders

·        Dysphagia

·        Other organic neurological disorders

If a child is found to have any of these disorders and is found to be eligible for special education, that student will also be eligible for related school services while in school.  These can be important.  These services include:

·        Medical services – provided by a licensed physician for diagnostic and evaluative purposes only

·        School health services and school nurse services – provided by either a qualified person or a school nurse in the case of school health services and provided by a school nurse in the case of school nurse services.

These are in place so that every child will receive FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) under section 504.

As with other special education services, if a child is under 3 years old, parents should seek out state early intervention services that will identify a child’s problem and, based on the child’s disability, design and deliver an individualized family service plan.

If a child is between 3 and 21, parents should go directly to their local public school and request special education services beginning with a comprehensive and individual evaluation to determine the child’s eligibility and what types of services are needed to address the child’s needs.
Grant Info:

Grant Name:  Smith Charitable Trust Educational Grants

Funded By:  May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust

Description:  Giving on a national basis to organizations that serve the needs of children, the elderly, the disabled, and the disadvantaged. Interests include art and music, education, and the mentally and physically disabled. No grants to organizations receiving significant government funding.

Program Areas:  Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies

Recipients:  Public School, Private School, Higher Ed, Other

Proposal Deadline:  Apply online at website

Average Amount:  $3,000.00 - $250,000.00

Telephone:  415-332-0166

Availability:  All States

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Activity Guide - Balancing Hat

The team at Achievement Products asked our consultant, Occupational Therapist Scott Russo, to provide some activity suggestions for incorporating some of our favorite items into daily classroom activities or curriculum.

Scott has provided some really great and creative ways to use items (that may have been originally designed for typically developing children), in special needs environments.

Today we will look at the Balancing Hat.


The balance hat is a fun way to work on body awareness, gross and fine motor control, social skills and pre-academic skills. The lightweight foam pieces provide comfort when it is worn as a hat, safety if/when it is dropped, and ease of use due to the light-weight and easy grip material. The different colored and sized pieces allow for a wide range of pre=academic categorization options.

Activity Ideas

Simple stacking activities. Have the child use the "hat" as a simple stacking activitiy without putting it on his/her head. Discuss the sizes, shapes and colors of the blocks while the child familiarizes his/herself with the "hat".

Have the child stack the blocks on their head while standing still. Place the blocks on a surface that allows the child to be able to reach the blocks without bending, and stack the blocks in the correct order. Doing this activity in front of a mirror can help the child with poor body or spatial awareness and can also assist the child in finding the correct order with the visual clues seen in the mirror.

Increase the stacking challenge and the motor coordination of the child, by having the pieces positioned on surfaces of different heights that require the child to reach up, bend down, and stack the blocks all without the tower spilling.

Introduce balance into the activity by placing the pieces on different surfaces around the room, then have the child move from place to place, putting each piece on their head without spilling the tower.

For group or individual play, complete a relay race. Separate the pieces so that child must walk back and forth between two surfaces to achieve the correct order of the stacking. If working in teams, each player must pass the hat successively to the next for the placement of the next piece.

Other relay ideas: the teams must first work together to create the stack in the correct order on the table. Then each team member takes a turn wearing the hat while walking a fixed distance. The hat must be passed between teams members as a baton would be n a relay race.