When First Children School elected to close for the safety of our students and staff, our teachers went to work immediately communicating with our families to identify preferred means of contact, accessible equipment and materials, and a description of the home environment. These are all important factors in the design of individualized programs to meet the needs of each of our students and their families. If families lacked the necessary tools for remote instruction, our staff delivered those tools to them.
Initial packets were mailed out in mid-March with instructions for students and families to work on. Packets are continually mailed out on a regular basis to families.
Remote Learning Lessons
Many of our teachers are providing remote learning lessons. Some lessons are pre-recorded and others are live via web conferencing apps. Some teachers have opted to record lessons from their classroom which provides a familiar view for the students. Other teachers have set up mini classrooms in their homes such as this example to the right. This is a classroom set up by elementary teacher Tricia DeVito for her rain forest lesson. A sample of pre-recorded lessons can be seen on our remote learning videos page.
High School Vocational Program
Our vocational program for high school students has carried on using videos for remote learning lessons. Teacher assistant Shaynon Remillard introduced distance learning for students by creating videos about COVID-19 and the new distance learning Spanish, English, and ASL. Since then, she has been making video lessons on various topics on vocational and life skills, career exploration, and family support.
Instruction for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
As soon as the decision to close school was made, Rachael Schupak, teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), put together guidelines and strategies for families to continue visual instruction at home including important strategies she uses in our clinic. She created a Google classroom for families to post assignments or pose questions and comments on the discussion board, and she continues to create activities that are fun for students and encourage family involvement. Additionally, Rachael has kept in constant contact with all the families of the students she serves to see how each child is doing to offer any needed help with instruction.
Instruction for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
For our students who are deaf or hard of hearing, our teachers of the deaf (TOD) have been making signed videos. Several videos created by Debbie Winter, TOD, can be seen on our remote learning videos page. High School Vocational Program teacher assistant Shaynon Remillard is making videos in ASL for her students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Music teacher, Melinda Bass O’Neal, pre-recorded music therapy for our classes using each student’s name to engage them and make them feel closer to the instruction.
Speech Therapy and Instruction for Students Who Use Augmentative Communication Devices (AAC)
Pamela Welch-Reinoso, speech-language pathologist has been creating videos for students who use AACs such as PODD, a naturalistic language teaching and augmentative alternative communication system, and a Proloquo2Go, a symbol-supported communication app providing a voice to individuals who cannot speak, to continue speech therapy for our students. She has also created videos to help families learn to use these AACs.
Our occupational therapy department made and delivered “school tools” kits to homes of students in need of supplies. They have also created a Youtube playlist on “how to” videos for families to help them operate their OT devices. Our OTs have been creating themed sensory projects such as this Spring themed name activity designed by Chrissy D’Amico. The activity helped students learn their names through a multi-sensory approach. She used materials that can be found outside because they are easily accessible and encourage students to get outside and explore nature.
The physical therapy team is busy making videos of exercises the students can do at home. Victoria Belkewitch, PT, DPT, has made videos demonstrating physical therapy exercises for individual students with her daughter as her assistant.
The nurses at First Children School reach out to the families of the students weekly to check on how they are doing, provide instruction, and help them when needed. Health packets are sent out to continue our weekly health classes with emphasis on relevant topics such as hand washing. In addition, our nursing staff has a list of local resources for families in need. Resources have also been emailed to school families and posted to our school webpage.
The school behavior team is supporting students by training families to implement behavior plans while students are completing their home learning. Additionally, they are providing direct applied behavior analysis (ABA) for students who have that included in their IEPs through telehealth.
The families of our students, who have always been active members of our IEP team, are now, more than ever, key partners in the education of our students. We rely on them to help our teachers and therapists in the identification of needs and the provision of educational interventions within their homes. Staff are engaging our families and students in familiar and new ways including making family support videos. Ongoing communication between our teachers and therapists have provided families with a coordinated plan which includes activities, vocabulary, and strategies which can be embedded into each student’s daily routine and natural environment. Family feedback has been overwhelmingly positive including many families sending us photos of their children learning at home. Pictures, videos, and of course the smiles are great examples of how distance learning is working!