In her home district, Ashley was using a strict verbal behavioral program. While she had mastered a little over 200 skills (around 600 is average), most of her skills were focused around following one direction guided by a prompt. She was not able to master academics. While her home school district did everything they could to help her, they realized Ashley’s needs would be better met at a specialty program. Pace Learning Center was that program.

“What are we going to do?” questioned special education teacher Pam Salerno’s when seven-year-old Ashley first walked through the doors at Pace Learning Center in Valencia, PA in March of 2010. When Ashley arrived at Pace Learning Center, she had difficulty communicating and could only use one or two words to verbalize what she wanted. Ashley was able to identify her own name, but did not recognize the individual letters. Ms. Salerno noticed immediately that Ashley would not make eye contact with anyone under any circumstances and was told that she was very impulsive and prone to biting. “Then we knew what we had to do. We were trying to come into her world to bring her back to ours”. During her first Individualized Education Program (IEP), Ms. Salerno told Ashley’s mother that they would work on verbal behavioral with speech, but would like to focus on academics as well.

The first big challenge for the staff at Pace Learning Center was teaching Ashley the difference between yes and no. When asked if she wanted a drink of milk, she would answer “no” because she didn’t know the difference. The staff worked diligently with Ashley using “Yes” and “No” language to help her decipher the difference. The staff would ask Ashley “Do you want this toy?” Not knowing the difference, Ashley would answer “No”. The staff would then take away the toy even though she wanted it. Even though it was difficult, Ashley learned the difference between yes and no.

Ashley’s team made the tough decision not to use a communication board because they did not want anyone or anything to talk for her. Instead, they made visual prompts out of paper to help her verbalize. Ashley did best with ten minutes instruction followed by a ten minute sensory break. This led to Ashley’s daily schedule of ten minutes on education, ten minutes of sensory stimulation followed by yes and no instruction and ending with verbal behavioral training. The staff at Pace Learning Center began using a timer to help Ashley understand her schedule and to transition from one activity to another. When Ashley was following instructions the timer would be on, when she began tantrumming, the timer would go off. In order for the timer to resume, the tantrum had to end and Ashley was asked to push the button herself. This put Ashley in charge of her own learning.

For Ashley, paying attention is not the same as everyone else. For students in the public school, paying attention means using active listening, and participating in conversations and class activities. For Ashley, it means giving eye contact and following a specific direction, being at her work area, and being engaged in her activity. The team at Pace Learning Center began to notice that during her sensory time, Ashley became more engaged in what was going on around her. The team found ways of working with Ashley’s sensory issues by keeping a pillow on her lap for pressure or letting Ashley take their hand and put pressure on her head. Previously Ashley would lash out, bite, and throw chairs. Now when Ashley starts losing focus during instruction and her feet start flailing, Ms. Salerno grabs her feet and plays “this little piggy”. When Ms. Salerno massages her toes, Ashley begins working once again. This revelation was a breakthrough in Ashley’s education. She needed the sensory input to focus on her work, so that is exactly

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what she was given. She receives Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy and responds well to tactile activities, deep pressure, movement, or Wilbarger Sensory Brushing Protocol.

Another educational breakthrough came about when Ms. Salerno discovered how much Ashley loves books and pictures. Open books and point to pictures and ask “Ashley… What is that?” she would enthusiastically answer “LION!” At first, Ashley did not understand that books contain stories, not just pictures and that she didn’t have to make up the stories on her own. The staff at Pace Learning Center began using books with songs and rhymes. They would read the page to Ashley and have her repeat phrases while pointing out the words. Ashley was fascinated with the words and stories coming from the books. This enabled the staff to use books and props to help her learn letters. They used props such as rubber snakes, Ashley’s favorite, to put on top of a letter and would prompt Ashley with “the snake is on I” and have her repeat. Once Ashley learned the letters, they moved on to words using the same concept. It worked beautifully. Ashley began putting the words together and began to read.

At the end of the year Ashley put together a book to take home to her family. The staff took sentences that Ashley had been working on and put them in context of “I can”. The staff then took pictures of Ashley doing these things such as “I can jump. I can run. I can hug.” Ashley and the Pace Learning Center Staff put Ashley’s photos into a book with text. And Ashley was able to read each entire sentence. After only three short months, the Pace Learning Center team was able to send home the book Ashley created entitled I see for Ashley to read to her mother. Her Mom was overwhelmed with joy when her little girl sat down and read her a story. “Thank God we found this place; I don’t know what would have happened to her without Pace Learning Center.”

“Teachers who are stressed, unhappy, and unsupported by their peers

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are more inclined to treat their students with disrespect.”[i]

At Pace we know, through our understanding of trauma, that we are sponges for our peer’s emotional states, whether we want to be or not. And as we all know, children are even “spongier” than adults. They absorb our energy – whether positive or negative. How we talk to each other creates a “climate” that can be pleasant and respectful or can be clique-ish and unfriendly.

In a recent article in Educational Leadership: Respect-Where Do We Start?, Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, makes a strong case that the adult culture of a school is key to developing respectful students. But as simple as this insight sounds, it’s not easy to change the culture of any group of adults, and even harder to change a culture where the adults are constantly under pressure to interact positively with children. Their needs and behaviors can overwhelm even the most cheerful disposition.

Why is it so hard for people to stay positive? Ms. Beaudoin, who uses brain research to make her point, says that “It’s easy for people to dwell on negative affective states because, according to neuroscientists, there are more neural networks in the brain associated with negative affect than with positive affect (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001); some scientists even speculate that these may be in the ratio of 5 to 1.”[ii]

Her suggestion: start by evaluating the conversation in the lunchroom. Are people talking about their problems? Are they complaining to each other or engaging in “one-ups-man-ship” about the latest student horror story? Are they talking about the work or are they talking about each other’s interests and lives? »Read More

Summertime means warm temperatures and long lazy days in the sun. For many kids, it is a welcome break from the rigors of going to school every day. But, the lessons learned during the school year should not be forgotten all summer long. Research clearly shows that children who do not read over the summer can lose up to three months of reading progress. The loss is cumulative and can have long term effects. As a parent, you play a critical role in your child’s education during the summer months.

Here are 10 weeks of activities from the Reading is Fundamental website that includes reading and reading related skills. There is no special order, and you don’t have to do everything listed in a particular week. Just pick the ones that look interesting and fun! The most important thing to remember is to keep reading fun over the summer!

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