My idea is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues. I’d like to see different successful schools, wherever they may be, up close. I’d like to sit down with directors and administrators. I’d like to speak with government officials who keep a pulse on the education affairs of their communities. I want to learn more about education around the globe through speaking with locals, seeing the schools, and shaking hands with the people responsible for implementing the systems. If you know of any outstanding (public or private) special needs schools in other parts of the world, I’d love to hear about them. If you know any education experts from around the world, I’d love to be introduced to them. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas. Read more about my mission.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Live stream available now through You Tube at :
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Friday, October 31, 2014
It was a pleasant drive from New York to Connecticut on I-95 on an overcast and crisp, but not yet cold, fall afternoon. Foliage lined the highway. I arrived at the Pinchbeck rose farm at about two o'clock in the afternoon. Cows grazed on the side of the road as we pulled up to the main entrance. We were greeted warmly by Tom Pinchbeck and Michelle Ouimette. I had hoped to observe the employees in action, but they had just left for the day. Tom and Michelle showed me around the premises. On the lot, there were two greenhouses, one of which was currently in use. The one greenhouse produces around 500,000 roses per year. Lilies are grown and sold as well, but those make up a much smaller share of the business. A high-powered boiler room provides a steady flow of steam to the greenhouse to maintain an optimal temperature.
The individuals with autism whom Roses employs are responsible for growing, monitoring, cutting, packaging, and shipping the roses, as well as for other aspects of the business. They are paid employees, not interns or volunteers - a distinction that Roses emphasizes to encourage ownership. Since Roses is an "inclusive" environment, most of the employees are "typically developing" people who serve as mentors to those with special needs. Students from local mainstream public and private schools volunteer at the rose farm. Profits from the sale of flowers are invested back into the business to cover employees' salaries, to fund scholarships and career training programs, and to ensure that the business can sustain itself in the future.
If Roses is the business part of the organization, Discover Learn Work is the training part. Individuals with autism and related disorders can enroll in Discover Learn Work for business training that may include coursework at college campuses, internship opportunities at various training sites, coaching through the job interview process, or support through gainful employment.
What I found particularly interesting is that Discover Learn Work works with local public schools to meet the needs of transitioning students who require vocational training. In New York, transition programs and vocational training are a huge unmet need. Discover Learn Work participates in IEP meetings to aid in developing transition goals, and works with IEP students to implement their transition goals at one of the Discover Learn Work training sites.
Roses is part of a larger parent company called Ability Beyond (http://abilitybeyond.org/about-us/), which is run by CEO Tom Fanning (http://www.rosesforautism.com/tf/) and operates in Connecticut and New York. Roses is a growing company with plans for expansion. Short-term goals include opening the second greenhouse and creating a stronger brand image. Long-term expansion plans are still taking shape.
On my way out, I purchased a few dozen short-stem roses and some lilies for the women in my family, who were enchanted by the scent and quality of the flowers.
Monday, May 26, 2014
I attended the event on Thursday and truly enjoyed the evening. The event was hosted in a beautiful space in Tribeca. Arriving guests were greeted warmly with music playing in the background and snacks and drinks awaiting consumption. The crowd was intimate and diverse, with various professionals from different backgrounds in the audience. Although a power point presentation and video clip guided the presentation, the conversation was informal and interactive, with audience members sharing their perspectives and personal experiences.
The presentation consisted of many of the same points as were presented at the Brooklyn College event: child-centered approach (letting the child’s interests guide instruction, rather than following a predetermined agenda set by the teacher), teacher/parent as researcher (understanding the child’s interests through observation of the child’s individual movements and patterns), and materials conducive to learning (easily accessible, natural, etc.). The overall message, to put it succinctly: encourage the child to explore and discover!
A point I hadn’t considered prior to this evening was the importance of recording children’s thoughts and comments as they explore and discover, which can help to track and understand the development of a child’s interests and his/her overall personal growth. I developed an appreciation for the importance of exposing children to sensory stimuli early on. Children also need to learn the consequences of their actions through guided exploration, rather than to fear the unknown because of overprotective teachers. To conclude the evening, we explored the similarities and difference among the Reggio Emilia model, the Montessori approach, and Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s DIR/Floortime methodology.
It’s unclear to me, however, whether this Workforce Bill is the right approach for addressing this issue. According to Education Week (see http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/05/bipartisan_bicameral_workforce.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CampaignK-12+(Education+Week+Blog%3A+Politics+K-12), the primary purpose of the bill is not K-12 education but rather workforce training issues, including adult education. But the bill continues to fund a number of K-12 programs, which I imagine would leave less money for supportive employment for individuals with special needs. If the part of the bill that focuses on youths concerns itself not only with individuals with special needs but also high-school dropouts and disadvantaged youth who are pursuing GED’s or vocational training, which seems to be the case, how much of the funds would be applied toward special needs individuals?
I haven’t read the existing version of the bill, but I’d be curious to know if it addresses the following points. What kinds of supports would these individuals receive to assist with transitioning to the workforce? For instance, would there be daily support in the form of an on-site job coach or shadow, or perhaps a once a month group training session with some tips on how to act around the office? What kinds of jobs would these individuals be transitioned to? Who would qualify for this program? That is, would more intensive supports be provided for individuals with more severe needs, or would those with more severe impairments be excluded? What employers are participating or will participate in this program, and what training do they/will they receive? How will compensation for disabled individuals compare to the compensation of their nondisabled peers performing the same job?
While this approach to legislation may be politically convenient for the reasons that Education Week identifies, I’m not convinced it represents the kind of broad reform that I think we need to help individuals with disabilities become independent and productive adults. I’d be curious to hear others’ thoughts on this, and would be interested in learning more about what other efforts are being made to address this important issue.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
The U.S. Department of Education supports charter schools’ efforts to provide students, including those in some of the nation’s highest-need communities, with additional meaningful opportunities to receive a high-quality public education. Today, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance (versión en español) providing a reminder that our federal civil rights laws apply to charter schools just as they apply to other public schools.
The guidance explains that the federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in education on the basis of race, color, and national origin; sex; and disability extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.
We hope that the guidance issued today will help enhance the role charter schools can play in advancing equal opportunity for all students. Our office stands ready to provide technical assistance should you or your colleagues need it.
The Office for Civil Rights
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Another point I found interesting was that Educare came about as a result of the work force expansion in Sweden in the 1970's. When more women started working, someone had to look after their children. For a while the program was run under the auspices of the social welfare system. In 1998, Educare officially became part of the educational system.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Sweden is internationally lauded for its public, comprehensive, accessible and affordable Educare system, which provides all Swedish young children with some of the very best care and education. New York City is embarking on a massive expansion of pre-K programs. What can we learn from Sweden's experience?
What: Discussion: "Universal Preschool in Sweden: Inspiration for Progressive Early Childhood Education"
Who: The Brooklyn College Department of Early Childhood and Art Education and the Brooklyn College School of Education
Where: Gold Room, 6th Floor, Brooklyn College Student Center, Campus Road and East 27th Street
When: Monday, May 5th at 6pm
For Information: Contact email@example.com
Sunday, March 30, 2014
"Restoring Hope During Adolescent Crises" Panel Event at the Robert Louis Stevenson School on Thursday, April 3
Restoring Hope during Adolescent Crises
an evening of networking and panel discussion
Date: April 3, 2014
Time: 6:30-8:00 PM
Questions to be addressed: When is intervention needed? Does your adolescent need an alternative school environment? Will your adolescent ever go back into mainstream education? What are reasonable parenting expectations? What supports should you make sure exist on a college campus? Professionals working with adolescents and their parents may also find this event quite helpful.
Friday, March 21, 2014
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the annual Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) conference in Baltimore, Maryland, a short and immensely enjoyable 3-hour Amtrak train ride from NY Penn Station. This year's conference boasted the largest attendance ever, attracting approximately 550 attendees from all over the country.
This was my 5th COPAA conference. As I contemplated this while roaming the corridors of the Waterfront Marriott where the conference was held, moving from one session to the next, this felt like a significant milestone for me. As usual, the conference gave me an opportunity to reflect on where I’ve been over the last year. It was also nice to look around and recognize a significant number of the attendees.
The conference offered the usual assortment of trainings and workshops. Some highlights for me included:
Cross Examination of Experts - Great full-day workshop with Frank Hickman and Tracey Walsh focusing on the art of cross examination.
Legal and Academic Perspectives on America's Public Education - Big-picture, policy-related session considering the roots of education from the 1600’s through the present, new movements including online education and school choice, and the usual hot-button issues of accountability, high-stakes testing, evaluations, and teacher performance. The afternoon portion of the day (a bit harder to get through perhaps due to sleep deprivation kicking in) addressed the intricacies of the Common Core and Universal Design for Learning, and their implications for special needs students.
Keynote Speaker LeDerick Horne - This year's speaker, LeDerrick Horne, truly delivered. He spoke about the difficulties he experienced as a child with a learning disability and the constant fear of public embarrassment that he endured on a daily basis. When he was close to breaking down, he chose instead to break through. He pushed through elementary and high school, attended college, and obtained his undergraduate degree. He has become an entrepreneur and performance poet who has worked as an advocate on the national, state and local level. While he continues to struggle with his learning difficulties, he has devised useful tools to help him cope. His presentation also included a poem or two. More information available at www.lederick.com.
General Session - Matthew Cohen delivered an impassioned speech, acknowledging the gains we have made in the areas of disability and civil rights law, but emphasizing the big steps we still need to take to move forward. He spoke forcefully, peppering the audience with real-life examples of injustices he has seen in cases he has handled, and the energy in the room rose quickly. That led to a group discussion with the audience, which led to several people speaking about the importance of embracing the concept of individuals with different abilities and focusing what unique skills people have rather than focusing on what they lack, which resonated with me and reminded me of my visit to the Ann Sullivan Center.
Life Planning for Families of Loved Ones with Special Needs - An emphasis on special needs trusts and guardianships, and how those issues can be tied into due process hearings and/or settlement agreements.
Creating a Winning Stay Put Argument - An interesting session that highlighted some of the many permutations that one might encounter when dealing with the issue of "stay put" and the question of what should be considered a child's last agreed upon placement.
Retrospective Testimony/Monday Morning Quarterbacking - Unfortunately I did not attend this event, but after hearing everyone talk about it, I wished I had. The session focused on the issue of retrospective testimony, and the implications of recent court decisions regarding this issue.
A Case Study: An Effort To Grow Special Education Advocacy Awareness - Andy Cuddy presented on his recent media campaign to reach impoverished special needs parents in Rochester through the use of television commercial spots. The campaign emphasized raising awareness in a tactful way. While some may have dismissed the event off-hand, I was glad I attended. I found the presentation to be professional, informative, and thought provoking.
Redefining Functional Skills for the 21st Century - This workshop helped me to reconsider what it means for a child with special needs to be "functional" in the 21st century, with a focus on inclusion in a general education setting.
Latest Top 40 Chart-Topping Decisions - The most entertaining case law review that I have ever attended (and it's no easy task to make this stuff exciting). The presenters delivered their top 40 cases over the last several years in the format of a top 40 music countdown, highlighting fact scenarios that were particularly ridiculous and excerpts from decisions containing language that was particularly powerful.
COPAA is a great organization to join if you think you might benefit from a network of attorneys, advocates, parents, and others involved in the area of special needs. Parent membership costs $50 per year and provides access to a wonderful community. For more information, you can visit the COPAA website: http://www.copaa.org/.
Next year's conference is scheduled for March 5-8, 2015 at Paradise Point Resort & Spa in San Diego, California!
Sunday, February 23, 2014
You may remember that Friday was the day of the fog. For much of the close to two-hour-drive up to Monticello, I was looking out at a wall of whiteness. I was surrounded by snowy mountains, snow on the ground, and an intense, consuming fog that all seemed to blend into one. The road was quiet. The visibility on the road was awful. Many times the road disappeared, and I changed lanes to get behind a car that I could follow closely because I figured as long as I could see the car that meant there was still road. Once I got over the initial shock of the daunting driving conditions, I began to appreciate the stark beauty. The bright white and bare trees created a somewhat eerie but incredibly peaceful landscape which I said I would describe as "fantastical" if others asked. I felt myself breathing in the beauty of my surroundings by inhaling them through the air vents on the dashboard. My senses felt heightened and I kept myself from turning on the radio because I didn't want to ruin the moment. Though my day had only barely started, I was feeling very glad to be making this trip.
I arrived at The Center For Discovery around 10 a.m. The school grounds cover 1,500 acres of land with various campuses, which are set up thoughtfully to meet the unique needs of the students housed at each campus. For example, a campus intended for children with autism, was expertly designed by none other than Temple Grandin whose goal was to construct the campus in way that was sensitive to the sensory needs of its students, as children with autism can become easily overwhelmed by light, sound, and smell. I also saw a kitchen that was tailor-made for individuals in wheelchairs such that all of the kitchen equipment could be adjusted higher or lower according to the student's height. The school primarily serves individuals aged 5-21, who, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, may be entitled to funding for the cost of the program. The Center also serves individuals above the age of 21, but as a general rule those individuals would need to obtain funding through Medicaid and the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). The oldest individual currently enrolled is 85 years old.
The Center began in the 1940's as an institution for the education of individuals with cerebral palsy, but gradually evolved to include students with a range of issues including autism and multiple physical handicaps. The Center For Discovery, like the Ann Sullivan Center, emphasizes functional education, rather than rote learning of academics that may have limited practical application in the real world. Students learn hands-on by participating in a panoply of activities including gardening, cooking, dancing, farming, and working in the Center's on-site restaurants and cafes that are designed to teach important skills. During these activities, student receive ongoing support from school staff which focuses on teaching important skills necessary to function in the real world and aims to prepare students for an eventual transition to a less supportive educational setting or, where possible, an appropriate work environment tailored to the specific interests and abilities of the particular student. The Center is primarily a full-time residential program, which means that the students live on campus 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with some exceptions for family visits and vacations. To a lesser degree, the Center functions as a day program for students who are bussed from nearby districts. There are currently about 500 total students in the two programs. There are about 1,500 staff members including teachers, psychologists, social workers, related service providers, behavior specialists, and "integration specialists." Classrooms typically consist of 6 students and approximately 3 staff members. Students are grouped according to their needs and abilities. Reverse inclusion provides mainstreaming opportunities for students to interact with typically developing peers from the community through sporting activities and other opportunities to socialize and mingle.
The Center For Discovery has a research arm in addition to the hands-on instructional program described above. Partnering with different institutions around the country, the Center is actively pursuing answers to questions concerning effective approaches to the education and development of individuals with disabilities. The Center is active internationally by participating in conferences around the world concerning various special education topics. The Center also conducts assessments and evaluations to help families better understand what supports and interventions are necessary for their children to make meaningful gains. The Center also works closely with local school districts through staff trainings and workshops, which has allowed the Center to extend its reach to help students outside of its own program. The Center is working on plans for expansion in order to make its services available to a wider population.
I would like to thank the wonderful people at The Center For Discovery who welcomed me warmly and spent over three hours showing me around, discussing their amazing program, and sharing a glimpse of some of the very exciting things that they have planned for the near future. Thank you for the fantastic work that you do, and good luck with your new endeavors!
For more information about The Center For Discovery, visit the school's website: