Teaching English Learner Students with Disabilities

Erica Sommer

Erica Sommer is a special education teacher in Del Valle Independent School District, which serves students in and around Austin, Texas.

Sommer works closely with the district’s substantial English learner population, has almost 15 years of teaching experience and has been passionate about teaching for as long as she remembers. She shared with us how working with English learner students and those with disabilities has impacted her as a teacher and individual.


English learners make up one of the most diverse student groups in schools today. When English learners enter our schools, they come from varying racial, ethnic, linguistic, socio-economic, educational, and cultural backgrounds. Serving the needs of English learner students, particularly those identified as having a disability, can be a challenge for schools and teachers, but it is also an interesting and exciting group of students to teach and learn from.

I have had many unique opportunities to work with English learners who are also students with disabilities both at the very beginning of my career in Kansas City, Kansas and now, as I work with students in and around Austin, Texas.

In Kansas City, I worked with English learner students with disabilities who were part of a public-private school partnership in the district.

In my current school district, bilingual students make up about 87 percent of the student population, and about 60 percent of those students are English learners. I really enjoy this work, especially the relationships I’m able to build with individual students and their families.

Over the past two years, I’ve been working with a young English learner with learning disabilities including dyslexia. She has been such an inspiration to me. She is the hardest working student I’ve ever worked with, and I can’t wait to get invited to her high school graduation!

Teaching English learners with disabilities is of course challenging at times, but those challenges become learning experiences. I have found several strategies that work well when facing challenges in my work.

  1. I learned to ask for help when communicating with parents. This sometimes requires getting a translator, and these situations have helped me to develop another skill, which is to learn how to communicate effectively while using a translator.
  2. I have learned to be flexible and open to change.
  3. I have learned the importance of connecting with classroom teachers and advocating for my students. I work with bilingual teachers and mainstream teachers in settings that are more collaborative and less formal than an official individualized education program team or planning meetings. What we do is more about coordinating our work and sharing professional development opportunities and information. We work together like this because we know it will make our jobs easier and ultimately benefit of our students.

I think that the best way teachers and schools can help English learners, students with disabilities and all kids is by working with their parents. Reach out and learn how to effectively communicate with parents of English learners because this can be absolutely crucial to a child’s success in school. We, as teachers, can be someone who influences our students’ whole trajectory in life.

The most rewarding part of my work with English learners with disabilities is actually saying goodbye to my fifth graders, and knowing they have so much more to do and accomplish! These students make a big impact on me as an individual, especially those who are particularly surprising and the most challenging. I often find that my students who seem tough and rugged throughout the year are the same students who cry and hug me on the last day of school.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Erica Sommer
Posted by
Special Education Teacher Del Valle Independent School District, Del Valle, Texas

October and Disability Awareness

ICYMI "In Case You Missed It!"

In addition to announcing OSEP’s new director, Laurie VanderPloeg, and interviewing Caryl Jaques at Little One’s University preschool, this October, we highlighted aspects of disability awareness for National Disability Employment, Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Down Syndrome!

Check out the stories below:


Down Syndrome


Courtney and her twin sons

It Takes a Village | 10/19/2018

Courtney’s twin sons just started kindergarten. This military family also moved across the country this year. Read how she’s advocated for her son with Down syndrome to be included in the same class as his brother.


Rachel, now an Olathe South High School Graduate

I REALLY Love My Life! | 10/12/2018

Rachel, a 19-year-old, loves her family, friends, school, social activities and so much more. She’s traveled to DC and testified in Topeka to talk about laws that will help people with Down syndrome.


ADHD | Dyslexia | Learning Disabilities


Lena McKnight

Learning About My LD: Accepting My Challenges & Finding My Voice | 10/30/2018

Lena struggled through middle and high school, but she eventually earned her GED, an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree. Read how Lena learned more about her learning disability, accepted her challenges and found her voice.


Strong Foundations School logo

Public Charter School Founded to Provide Excellent Reading Instruction to All | 10/29/2018

Beth McClure envisioned a school designed specifically to provide excellent reading instruction to all students, so she started Strong Foundations School, a public charter school.


Veronica and Myriam Alizo

From Miami to New Jersey | 10/25/2018

Myriam recounts her journey from a young, new mom learning her daughter had a speech delay and attention issues to a career assisting other parents of children with disabilities to help them navigate their rights and get involved in their child’s education.


Dylan and Nicola at the beach

Reflections on Where We’ve Been: A Mother and Son’s Journey with Dyslexia | 10/23/2018

Dylan is a college sophomore, a soccer player and ceramic artist who loves to travel the world when there’s time. He also has dyslexia. Dylan and his mom share their story in hopes of inspiring others.


Douglas Rawan II, a sixth-grader with dyslexia

My Truth About Dyslexia―What I Wish for Other Kids With Dyslexia and Their Parents | 10/09/2018

Sixth-grade student pens blog about dyslexia in “My Truth About Dyslexia—What I Wish for Other Kids with Dyslexia and Their Parents.”


Candice Crissinger and children

High Achievement Requires High Expectations: My Family’s Story | 10/04/2018

One mom, two sons 10 years apart in age. Candice shares her family’s story of the vastly different experiences they had when seeking educational supports and services for her sons with disabilities and ADHD.


National Disability Employment Awareness Month


Hands On Hyatt trainees

Hands On/Hyatt | 10/31/2018

Hands On Educational Services, Inc., a vocational training program that prepares individuals with disabilities for careers in the hospitality industry, celebrates its 20th year of partnering with Hyatt.


WINTAC logo

Meeting WIOA Requirements: Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance | 10/31/2018

Learn different ways to stay current with employment trends related to the workforce and people with disabilities.


Way2Work Maryland logo

Way2Work: Helping Marylanders with Disabilities Transition into the Workforce | 10/30/2018

Way2Work helps Marylanders with disabilities transition into the workforce. Check out some of their success stories!


Alaska and Nevada VR Websites

Successful Work Experiences | 10/26/2018

The Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Nevada Ready show how states are creating programs to help youth with disabilities transition into a work environment.


Logo - National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

Transition Resources Help Agencies and Service Providers Support Youth with Disabilities | 10/24/2018

The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) has many resources that help state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, VR service providers and other service providers prepare student with disabilities for successful postsecondary education and employment.


Veronica and Victor

ASPIRE! | 10/22/2018

With the help of ASPIRE, families in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah are taking charge of their futures, learning about benefits available in their state, and more.


Logo - National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM)

Finding Rehabilitation Training Materials: RSA Technical Assistance and Other Resources | 10/22/2018

OSERS Rehabilitation Services Administration’s grant recipients offer numerous training materials and resources for those interested in vocational rehabilitation. Learn how to find these resources through the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM).


Nyrka

Meriden Public Schools’ Community Classroom Collaborative | 10/18/2018

Meriden K–12, a Connecticut public school, gets creative to help students like Nyrka find success by bridging the gap between school and adult life.


AR PROMISE logo

The Importance of Connection | 10/17/2018

The Arkansas PROMISE program shows how a personalized connection between youth & their families and case managers can leave a positive, lasting impact on youth with disabilities.


Kwik Trip Storefront

Kwik Trip | 10/16/2018

The Wisconsin Workforce’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation worked with KwikTrip, a family-owned business of convenience stores, to successfully recruit and train individuals with disabilities for the role of “Retail Helper.


Logo - National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM)

The National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM): Finding Promising and Effective Resources in the Clearinghouse Library

| 10/12/2018

Calling all vocational rehabilitation professionals. Did you know NCRTM provides quick, streamlined access to resources and technical assistance centers funded by OSERS Rehabilitation Services Administration?


Ida and her service dog

Ida’s Success Story—Knocking Down Barriers for Blind People Throughout New Jersey and Beyond | 10/10/2018

Ida’s a Drew University senior with a recent internship and employment offer from JPMorgan. She’s also legally blind. Read Ida’s story and about her work with the New Jersey Department of Human Services Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.


Christopher Pauley does the Marshmallow Challenge.

“Always Aim High!” | 10/03/2018

Christopher has a computer science degree. Yet, he applied to nearly 600 positions without much success—that was until a California Department of Rehabilitation vocational rehabilitation counselor helped him connect with Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program.


NDEAM 2018 Poster: Man in a wheelchair conversing with co-workers over laptop computers.

“America’s Workforce: Empowering All” | 10/02/2018

OSERS and OSERS Rehabilitation Services Administration proudly supports numerous programs relevant to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.


Twitter

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Also, check out related Tweets on OSERS Twitter feed

NDEAM 2018 | Hands On/Hyatt

NOTE: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Hands On Hyatt trainees

In recognition of NDEAM this month and in partnership with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, OSERS is pleased to highlight another successful partnership that State VR agencies have established with educational providers and the business community supporting the employment of individuals with disabilities.


Hands On Educational Services, Inc. is vocational training program that prepares individuals with disabilities for careers in the hospitality industry though its partnership with Hyatt Hotels, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies, and local educational agencies. While the partnership began with one Hyatt hotel in Tampa, Florida Hands On now works with over 30 Hyatt hotels in nine states and is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

With funding from state VR agencies and through Hyatt’s Hospitality Training Program, Hands On provides job-readiness training, job coaching, job placement services, and on-the-job training to individuals with disabilities in all aspects of the hotel industry, including culinary, engineering, housekeeping, and guest services. Since the program’s inception, Hyatt has extended job offers to several hundred program graduates.

While they sometimes operate behind the scenes, state VR agencies are often at the nexus of private-public partnerships – simultaneously supporting individuals with disabilities as they prepare for, secure, retain, advance in, or regain employment and the businesses that provide them with career opportunities.

As OSERS partners with states to administer the VR program, one of the core workforce development programs authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, OSERS is committed to strengthening partnerships and maintaining high expectations for the millions of individuals with disabilities the VR program serves.

For more information about the VR program in Florida, visit our partners at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Division of Blind Services. To learn more about Hands On, visit them online or through Facebook.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Kathleen West Evans, Director of Business Relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Posted by
Director of Business Relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Chris Pope
Posted by
Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education

Meeting WIOA Requirements: Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance

WINTAC logo

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, check out the many resources available in the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM), funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). Bookmark the NCRTM RSA Technical Assistance & Other Resources page for quick access to the RSA portal, RSA TA centers and funded projects, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) federal partners, other resources and research databases.

In this final blog of a three-part blog series from NCRTM, we offer ways to stay current with employment trends related to the workforce and people with disabilities. View first blog and second blog from NCRTM.


Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC)

The WINTAC helps state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency staff, rehabilitation professionals and service providers develop the skills and processes needed to meet the requirements of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

The WINTAC provides technical assistance and training in five topic areas that include:

You can find links to all of these topic areas with resources and information at WINTAC.

 

The Career Index logo

The Career Index Plus

The Career Index Plus (TCI+) includes state and local salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job trends and projections, current job openings, license requirements and certifications, education and experience requirements, and 200,000 training programs.

TCI+, offered through WINTAC, is a career information system that collects labor market information from a host of resources and deposits the information onto a single, user-friendly site. Access to TCI+ is free and the data is the most recent available.

The people behind TCI+ have spent almost 20 years specializing in labor-related data and are constantly combing a large array of sources to give VR professionals actionable labor market information for better, more informed career choices.

The following resources are presented through a collaboration between WINTAC and TCI+ and are intended to provide a comprehensive approach to training on this valuable resource.

  • Short Training Videos
    • Short training videos, each under 10 minutes in length
    • Provide VR professionals with short, direct, and relevant training materials on using features from TCI+
  • TCI+ Recorded Webinars 
    • Recorded from live webinars
    • Provide in-depth, comprehensive information and training on using The Career Index Plus.
  • TCI+ Resources
    • Provide VR agencies with training and informational materials on adopting The Career Index Plus as a labor market information tool.
  • Labor Market Information Resources
    • Provide VR agencies with comprehensive information on labor market data.

Do you want to keep up-to-date with new VR resources as they are added to the NCRTM? Follow them on Twitter @RSA_NCRTM and subscribe to their monthly New from NCRTM newsletter.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

“Voices from the Field” Interview with Caryl Jaques, Director, Little One’s University, Essex Junction, VT

Caryl Jaques

Assistant Secretary Johnny Collett and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kim Richey visited Little One’s University during the 2018 Back-to-School Tour.

Caryl Jaques is the Director of Little One’s University in Essex Junction, Vermont. She earned a bachelor’s of science degree in education with a concentration in psychology at the University of Vermont as well as a master’s degree in education.  She is licensed to teach children ages birth through sixth grade and has been directing child care centers since 1997. Caryl opened Little One’s University in May of 2009 and guided the center to earn a four-star rating in Vermont’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and continuously works to improve the quality of the program.   She is also the proud mother of six children ranging in age from three months to 18 years old. 


How did you begin your career in early childhood?

I graduated from University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a concentration in child psychology. I was offered one teaching position but it was too far from my house to commute each day so I started working in a child care center with younger children. I fell in love with it and after a year became the director of the program. We expanded the program from serving just preschoolers (3–5 year-olds) to a program that served infants through 6 year-olds. While I was there, I also went to school and earned a master’s degree in education, which gave me the skills to begin to address the high staff turnover rate. I created an in-house training program that gave staff the opportunity to become lead teachers. After 12 years I decided it was time to open my own child care center. In the new center my teachers and I built a program based on love and empathy for children. Over time our center became known as the center that would take children who were asked to leave other child care centers due do behavioral challenges. Parents of these children struggled to find child care and they absolutely felt the love and commitment we were willing to invest in their children. A high percent of the children we served were at-risk due to being exposed to trauma and toxic stress. Most of these families received subsidies for child care and were not able to pay their co-pay. We became a resource poor center serving the most at-risk population. Love was not enough to provide these children with what they needed. We had excellent teachers but were missing the developmentally appropriate books and materials. We desperately wanted to improve quality but found very little support for programs that were starting out.

What strategies did you use to improve the quality of the early learning experiences you provide?

Five years ago we were selected by the Caring Collaborative as one of the early childhood sites they worked with to infuse resources and services to increase the quality and support families that were living below the poverty level received. This partnership provided our center with materials and resources that helped increase the quality of care and education that our teachers were providing.  The Caring Collaborative provided the financial means for us to engage in trainings on how to work with children that suffered from high levels of trauma and toxic stress. This helped us improve our quality, and as our quality increased so did the money coming in from the child care subsidies (Vermont’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS)—known as STARS is connected to the state’s tiered reimbursement subsidy system, the higher your center’s star-rating the higher reimbursement you receive for the child care subsidy). The extra money allowed us to purchase materials that helped us continue to increase our quality, which brought new partnerships for our center. For example, we were chosen by the Howard Center to become a therapeutic child care center. This partnership gave us access to professionals with degrees and experience working with children with severe behavioral challenges. We were then more able to identify and meet the needs of our families. We developed a food program through a partnership with our local school district, and we were also able to offer yoga and arts programs for children. We added an onsite resource coordinator to connect families to resources outside of the center in areas that families need support such as finding secure housing. We were no longer a program that just loved children but we were a program doing great things for children and families.

Due to the increase in quality and exposure from the partnership with the Caring Collaborative, our center was able to create a partnership with the Essex Westford School District. The state received a federal Preschool Development Grant (PDG) and our local Essex school district was a subgrantee for the PDG expansion. The school district needed additional high quality classrooms and asked us if we were interested. This partnership meant we could serve four year olds in a high quality classroom and we could hire a licensed teacher with the district paying a percentage of the teacher’s salary. By the district paying a percentage of the salary, we could have 2 assistant teachers in the classroom and buy developmentally appropriate furniture, books, materials and toys for the classroom. The funding that supported the 4 year old classroom allowed us to focus our resources on other classrooms. Overall it helped us improve our quality across the center.  We went from being rated as a two star center (on our state’s QRIS) to almost the highest star rating (five). The great thing is that when you are rated higher on the state’s QRIS you receive a higher reimbursement rate for children receiving the state child care subsidy. We also noticed that with our higher rating we began to attract families that paid out of pocket for child care (not through the subsidy). Without this partnership with the school district we never would have been able to improve our quality.

Johnny and Kim visit Caryl and other special educators in Vermont during 2018 back to school tour.

Johnny and Kim visit Caryl and other early learning providers/special educators in Vermont during 2018 back to school tour.

Why do you think the early learning years are so important?

The early years are so important because they set the foundation for future learning and adulthood. The quality of experiences that a young child has directly impacts the child’s social, emotional and physical development and the adult they will become.  In my experience both with my own children and those attending my center, there is a difference in kids who had access to high quality early learning programs and those who didn’t, which can be seen as they enter elementary school. When we were trying to love children through their tough experiences without resources, it wasn’t enough! When you are able to provide children with high quality experiences you see challenging behaviors diminish and an overall reduction in stress not just for the child and teacher but also for the families. High quality programs have a huge impact on the relationships between a child and his or her family.

How do you work with families?

It is really important to create a strong sense of community among the families you serve. When a child attends our center we are clear at the beginning that we are a partner with the family and that we believe families are their child’s first teacher. We use the strengthening families self-assessment tool for early care and education programs to help promote positive relationships with families. We host family nights once a month in the center bringing families together to discuss different topics and build community. We also have a community swap where families can bring in things they no longer need and trade them for other materials they might need for their home. For families that have children with challenging behaviors, we’ve learned about the importance of building a positive home/school relationship from the beginning so they trust us and understand that our goal is to help their child be successful, not make them feel bad about their parenting. We do our best to engage families early knowing that many of them may not have had the best experiences in school. We also rely on the special interventionists that come to work with some of our children. They often will help with specific strategies we can implement in the classroom and that families can try at home.

What suggestions do you have to improve early childhood services and programs?

There are so many amazing people and resources in the early care and education field. Child care center directors and staff often become isolated and feel like they are responsible for solving the world’s problems alone. My advice is to be open and honest, invite people in and collaborate to best meet the needs of the children you serve.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Successful Work Experiences

Alaska and Nevada VR Websites

NOTE: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) assists state and local education agencies and VR agencies and service providers, and it keeps close contact with these agencies and providers in order to share real stories of real youth being supported in transition programs. Alaska and Nevada are just two of the states that are creating programs to help youth with disabilities transition into a work environment.

Alaska Division of Vocation Rehabilitation

Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provided pre-employment transition service—a requirement of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) activities to 802 Alaskan students this year through a number of statewide initiatives including Transition Camps and its Summer Work programs.

Transition Camps

Transition Camps help students develop a vision for what their future can be by exposing them to career exploration and the resources they may need to successfully transition from school to work. These camps, located in predominantly rural areas of the state and juvenile justice facilities, served 236 students. Transition camps are a partnership between DVR, Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), and the Department of Education.

Summer Work Programs

Summer Work, a partnership program between DVR and DEI, focused on providing students with disabilities with a chance to have a paid 160-hour work experience to become work ready. Summer Work served 182 students in 2018, and 99 Alaskan businesses provided work sites for students engaged in the program. Summer Work programs are implemented by school districts and community agencies in rural and urban areas. This year’s big success was the Cordova School District summer program. Eight of the 14 students who participated transitioned to competitive integrated employment at the end of their work experience!

Nevada Department of Education

The Nevada Department of Education hosts and organizes the annual Nevada Student Leadership Transition Summit (NSLTS). The summit provides a forum for high school students with disabilities to participate in sessions focused on disability awareness, self-advocacy, resources for career and college planning, and networking events with providers and other teens across the state.

NSLTS can have a lasting impact on people’s lives.

Kascia Tognoli attended the NSLTS in 2008 and 2009 as a student from Lyon County School District’s Yerington High School.

NSLTS helped Kascia realize what she wanted to do for a career. When she reflected on her time at NSLTS to the summit’s organizer Jennifer Kane, Kascia said:

I knew from then on what I really wanted to do which is what I am doing now, helping adults and students with disabilities. I remember going to my mom and telling her what they were talking about at the conference, and that I was going to do that one day. You [NSLTS] are the main reason why I started doing what I do… At the conference I came to terms that I needed to love my disability because it makes me who I am!… I just want to tell you thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting on that conference, it changed my life!

Kascia is employed currently with K.E.T. Consulting, LLC—a provider of Pre-Employment Transition Services in the state.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), assists state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to help ensure students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Reflections on Where We’ve Been: A Mother and Son’s Journey with Dyslexia

Dylan and Nicola at the beach

October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Nicola—a mom of three and an advocate—and her son Dylan, a college sophomore, share what has made their journey unique in hopes of inspiring others. Below, they take turns asking questions and telling their story.


Nicola: I want to start by sharing what I love most about my son. He sees the world in many dimensions. He is inquisitive, caring and creative. Traveling with Dylan is one of my favorite things to do because he sees the nuances and details of the culture, architecture, food and music wherever we are. He expresses genuine joy when experiencing new things. He is very social and adventurous, and people seem to be drawn to him like a moth to a lightbulb. But what I’m most proud about is that after years of struggling with an undiagnosed learning difference, and battling self-doubt, he is a sweet and curious guy and he has found strategies to deal with his learning and attention issues.

Nicola: Do you remember what it felt like for you when you started school?

Dylan: I remember being asked in first grade to write down my name and to describe something I liked. I didn’t know how to write or spell, so I wrote how they do in cartoons with just a scribble in a bubble on the page because that’s what I thought writing was. I felt defeated—like I wasn’t normal, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t like going to school because I felt different, but I did like seeing my friends. Everything seemed easy for them, and it was frustrating that they seemed to understand what the teacher was asking but I didn’t. I kept waiting for something to click.

Dylan: When did you first really know that I was having trouble learning in school? Was it in reading or writing? 

Nicola: When you were young, we knew you had some trouble when it came to sensory things, and we worried you’d be overwhelmed in a big school. So we started you in a small, private school with your brother, hoping that a small community would make you feel secure and you could explore your ideas.

You were very creative and bright, but when it came to writing and reading you avoided the tasks; you had difficulty writing your name, yet your vocabulary was advanced.

When we asked the school why there was such a disparity and to help us figure out what was going on, we were told that you were “all boy” and you had a late birthday, but you would eventually catch up.

I knew there was something else going on, but I didn’t know what it was.

Dylan: At what point did you finally have hope and think it would get better?

Nicola: When you were in the private school, they wouldn’t do an evaluation, so we had to get a private evaluation.

The first big moment was when we finally had a name for what you were experiencing—dyslexia and executive functioning challenges. There was finally a reason why you were having such a hard time in school. However, there wasn’t a roadmap or any guidance from professionals on what kind of intervention services would best help you.

We spent years and a lot of resources finding tutors and trying to get you the services you needed.

It wasn’t until you entered middle schools—this time to our neighborhood public school—that things really turned around.

Finally, the school was proactive. They were quick to complete a full evaluation and get to the bottom of what was happening. They worked with us to put together an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and get the right interventions in place. It was then—once they were able to provide the specific type of reading intervention you needed—that you started to make real progress.

Dylan and his family

 

 

Nicola: What do you think your biggest accomplishment so far has been? And what are your goals?

Dylan: For me, it is being able to retain knowledge at a higher level and overcome my struggles with writing and reading.

It’s hard because dyslexia never goes away. I still have to work twice as hard as my peers. Ironically, it has made me a better student, and I have been on the honor roll since 10th grade.

Taking the SAT and ACT was difficult, but I was still accepted into many colleges including Loyola Marymount in Chicago, University of Colorado, Colorado State University, San Francisco University, Syracuse University, Oregon State University, Temple University  and San Diego State University. Receiving those letters of acceptance made me feel that they valued my learning style and I had something important to offer.

In the future, I want to have a successful career that I enjoy and allows me to be creative. I am interested in design, and I can see taking my ideas into the world of advertising or clothing design.

What is very important to me is that I am surrounded by friends and family and never stop learning.

Dylan: What has been the best part of this whole journey for you?

Nicola: Even though it was hard to see you struggle and it took a long time to figure out how to help, the best part is that you taught me how to be an advocate.

You taught me that in order to succeed, you have to build partnerships. You can’t accomplish things alone, and if you don’t speak up then nothing will change. I have also met a wonderful community of other parents and educators who are passionate about children and a career that I love and never imagined doing.

Dylan: If you could talk to every parent who’s dealing with some of the same worries, what would you tell them?

Nicola: First, I would tell every parent to trust their instincts; if you feel something isn’t right with your child’s education then reach out to your teacher or pediatrician.

I would add that parents should get involved and know their rights. It is every child’s civil right to an education and because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act, there are protections for your child.

If your child struggles with dyslexia, make sure he receives the correct evidence-based intervention services. Question everything, but also listen and learn. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be an educated consumer.

Get involved, connect with other parents and educators, and create a team to work on the situation together. You can’t and shouldn’t do this alone.

Nicola: What’s one thing you want to say to younger kids who, right now, are where you used to be?

Dylan: The world isn’t built for us, but we shouldn’t conform to regular learning styles. You have a unique brain and you can use that brain to solve problems and come up with solutions that other people couldn’t even conceive of. When school is difficult, it doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you should try twice as hard and figure out a way to change the system. You cannot change the past but you can shape your future.


About the authors:

Dylan Frost is a sophomore in college, majoring in product design and development. He is an avid soccer player, ceramic artist, and world traveler when there is time. He is active in his fraternity and looking for an internship this summer in product design.

Nicola Frost is the Regional Field Manager (Colorado) for National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). Prior to becoming an advocate, she was an Emmy-award winning producer for the Food Network and directed documentaries. Her passion is in civil rights for all underserved communities. When she isn’t advocating she is biking the Rocky Mountains and kayaking with her family.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Dylan
Posted by
College sophomore majoring in product design and development
Nicola
Posted by
Mom of three. Regional Field Manager, National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD)

ASPIRE!

ASPIRE logo

The Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income, or PROMISE, program is an interagency collaboration of the U.S. Education Department, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, the U.S. Labor Department and the U.S. Social Security Administration. The program strives to improve the education and career outcomes of low-income children with disabilities receiving Supplemental Security Income and their families. Under the PROMISE program, state agencies have partnered to develop and implement six model demonstration projects (MDPs) serving 11 states


Veronica and VictorAchieving Success by Promoting Readiness for Education and Employment, or ASPIRE, is a PROMISE model demonstration project consortium of six states—Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

ASPIRE helps families gain a clear understanding of how benefits work and ways to earn more money while keeping their health care.

Equipped with this knowledge and the support of their ASPIRE case managers, ASPIRE Montana families are taking charge of their futures by participating in benefits counseling and returning to work.

Veronica, an ASPIRE parent, left her job to care for her son, Victor, when his seizures increased in frequency and severity. Veronica felt she could not go back to work because they needed Medicaid to cover the high costs of critical medications and procedures. This left the family with benefits that were not meeting their needs. They felt stuck between choosing health care and having enough money to pay for other essentials without going into debt.

As an eligible ASPIRE participant, Victor met with a certified benefits counselor and learned how employment really affects their benefits.

He has now set a goal to get a part-time job. To prepare for a job, Victor has learned how to read job descriptions, apply for jobs, and take advantage of the career services in his community.

Victor is also gaining independence and exploring assistive technology to help him move into employment and through life more safely and independently.

Veronica is planning to return to work.

Victor and Veronica have also shared the information they have learned through ASPIRE with the rest of their family. These two and their other family members are now connecting with services, applying for jobs, and moving toward financial security without risking the loss of their health insurance.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

It Takes a Village

NOTE: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Courtney Hansen holding her two boys on their front porch.

Courtney with her twin sons on their first day of kindergarten in a new state. The boys play t-ball together, love Super Why, biking to the park, and are in the same kindergarten class.

A guest blog by Courtney Hansen. Courtney is a non-attorney special education advocate. She advocates at the local, state, and national level for disability rights, and blogs about it at www.inclusionevolution.com


My son with Down syndrome and his typically-developing twin brother just started kindergarten. The military also just moved us across country this past summer.

There’s been a lot of change this year, and I was often overwhelmed by the idea of my first-born twins starting “real” school in a new state. I cried like a baby their first day of school, but they just marched off to school like they owned the place. I was amazed, but realized that it was the result of years of preparation and help from so many different people. Having a son with a disability has shown me the value of “the village.”

About two years ago, I really started investigating the idea of a fully inclusive education for my son with Down syndrome. I even blogged about my ultimate goal: my twins graduating together in the year 2031.

For most other sets of twins graduating together wouldn’t be a goal, because it would just happen automatically. With lower graduation rates for students with disabilities compared to non-disabled students, and even lower rates for student with intellectual disabilities, I knew our path would be hard fought. It all starts in kindergarten of course. So, I worked tirelessly over the past two years to get where we are today. Both Hunter and Troy are in the same class, and Troy is 100 percent included with his typical peers with the appropriate supports to be successful.

Too many kindergarteners with intellectual disabilities don’t have the same opportunity as my son, even though federal and state laws require the continuum of placement to start in general education with appropriate supports. You might ask how I successfully got him included 100 percent of the time and if he really is being successful. I will tell you it all starts with the village, as well as learning you and your child’s rights.

1. Find Your Tribe

Social media can be a blessing and a curse, but for parents of children with disabilities it’s often an awakening.

Getting plugged into the Down syndrome community via social media helped me realize what is possible.

Even though we’ve lived in three states since our twins were born, I’ve been able to make friends in each state and around the country who have shaped my perspective on what it means to live and thrive with an intellectual disability.

Can my son go to college? Of course, because I just talked to Beth whose son with Down syndrome is moving across country to attend George Mason University.

Can Troy really find a meaningful career? Yes! Elizabeth’s son just got another promotion at Kroger.

These friends have pushed me to set high expectations for my son.

2. Lean on Experts

No doubt about it, you are the expert of your child.

When he was little you were up in the middle of the night with his croupy cough, and you’ll be there when he ages out of the system.

Still, we can learn so much from doctors, therapists, counselors, and teachers.

I’ve always taken a hands-on approach to my son’s endless therapy sessions and education.

I always set some of the private therapy and individualized education program (IEP) goals. In return, many doctors, therapists, and teacher have taken the time to really educate me on best practices in my son’s areas of need and given me functional tips to help my son at home.

3. Start Advocating

I started advocating early ensuring my son would receive an inclusive education with proper supports. I attended conferences and special education trainings to learn my son’s educational rights.

You can start local with school board meetings and school superintendents. Request training for teachers in best practices like Universal Design for Learning and Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

At the state level, I advocated for a bill that is now law in Ohio to end organ transplant discrimination for people with disabilities. Many disability organizations provide opportunities to advocate nationally either over social media or in person.

I attended the Buddy Walk on Washington, and had the opportunity to ask my U.S. Senators and House of Representatives to preserve important health care protections for people with disabilities and better fund IDEA. Positive change starts with you and me. So get out there; our children’s futures depend on it!

4. Take a Break

Most parents of children with disabilities are the most tenacious, hard-hitters I’ve ever met, but this heightened existence of higher highs and lower lows can take their toll on Type-A personalities like me.

I have to make a conscious effort to lean on friends and family outside of the disability community.

The military affords our family respite hours every month, and I use every last minute. The only way I can be a superhero for my son is if I take care of myself.

Parenting a child with a disability is a marathon, not a sprint.

Even with the strong start my son has, I know we will hit many bumps in the road.

Will I know when his needs aren’t being met? How will I ensure he’s included, but also gets the support he needs for a successful future?

My best answer is to lean on my village. I wish more people would embrace their “village.” Our children, community, and country would be better for it!

Courtney's two boys

Troy and Hunter


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Meriden Public Schools’ Community Classroom Collaborative

Assistant Secretary Johnny Collett and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kim Richey visited Meriden Public Schools during the 2018 Back-to-School Tour. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Nyrka successfully completes Meriden’s Community Classroom Collaborative Program.

Nyrka successfully completes Meriden’s Community Classroom Collaborative Program.

The Meriden Public Schools in Meriden, Connecticut creatively programs its education offerings to meet the needs of all students to ensure their success.

Creative programming requires high-quality and appropriate staffing investments, state-of-the-art facilities, and board of education and school buy in.

When evaluating the needs of our 18–21 year old students, it became clear that we needed a district-wide continuum of services. We recognized the need for transitional programming to be outside of the high school walls and in the students’ home-based community.

The Community Classroom Collaborative (CCC) was launched to serve students with varying disabilities, ages 18–21, in an age-appropriate and natural environment. The purpose of the CCC is to serve as a bridge between school and adult life by involving students in a variety of transition, vocational and employment activities, social/leisure/recreational skills training and opportunities for independent living activities.

The CCC program is based in Meriden’s city center rather than in the high school, and young adults continue to be enrolled in high school while receiving “transition only” services through the CCC program.

Meriden Public Schools created the community-based program in 2012 with the assistance of the YMCA, one of our major community partners. The program has tripled in size since then.

Nyrka, a former CCC student, is a true success story, and we are proud that she is a Meriden Public Schools’ graduate. Her personal story is not an easy one as she was presented with many obstacles both at home and at school. Nyrka was an active participant in her planning and placement team individualized education program and it was planned for her to attend the CCC for transitional programming.

While Nyrka was involved in the CCC, she participated in all that the district offered. She was supported in her employment; she learned to utilize her community for healthy/leisure activities through her YMCA membership provided as part of the CCC; and she gained skills in personal finance, self-advocacy, and independent living and life skills. With the support of the staff and programming, Nyrka became connected with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), which assisted her in moving into her own apartment and aided her in making healthy life choices.

As Nyrka progressed through the program, her independence skills soared. Nyrka gained competitive employment in retail and gained enough confidence to speak at different events in regards to her school growth experiences.

Last January, Nyrka requested to complete her program early in order to attend the spring semester at Middlesex Community College in the college’s human service assistant certificate program. Today, Nyrka is employed as a self-advocate coordinator through DDS. She lives independently and enjoys her work and sharing her story with others.

We couldn’t be more proud of Nyrka and all that she has accomplished.

Nyrka’s story is one of many. When our students start in the CCC they are often reserved, unsure of themselves, and unsure where they fit in for employment and socialization as young adults. When they complete their education at the CCC, they leave with confidence in communication, confidence in knowing what they want out of their employment and confidence in being able to work through the social aspects that lie ahead.

Having the students graduate and able to live a healthy, active, productive lifestyle within the community is key to ensuring that we are giving our students a chance for a better life.

In Meriden, here all students succeed.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Patricia Sullivan-Kowalski
Posted by
Senior Director of Student Supports and Special Education Meriden Public Schools