Life-Changing Outcomes for Exceptional Kids

First Children School Staff and Students Adjust to New Distance Learning

Updated April 14, 2020

A  few months ago, who could have imagined a school of over 100 students with multiple disabilities preparing to teach their students remotely? It was hard for anyone to imagine before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, yet here we are, successfully educating the First Children School students in the safety of their own homes. Transitioning to distance or remote learning was no easy feat for First Children School staff and administration. Our programs, students, and families are unique, and thus the delivery method of service during this time has been carefully customized to meet each student’s needs based upon a variety of factors. Most of our students receive multiple therapies including speech, occupational, and physical therapy.  Many students are blind or visually impaired and/or deaf or hard of hearing. We have students who require behavioral support including one-to-one support. Meeting the distance learning needs of all our students is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Our dedicated staff has been working hard utilizing creative means to overcome the challenges of distance learning.

Zoom Online Lesson

When First Children School elected to close for the safety of our students and staff, our teachers went to work immediately to prepare learning packets for students. Initial communication with our families helped to identify preferred means of contact, accessible equipment and materials, and a description of the home environment which are all important factors in the design of individualized programs that will not only meet the needs of each of our students, but also their families. Initial packets were mailed out with instructions for students and families to work on, but many of our staff soon followed with resources, materials, video lessons, remote therapy, virtual learning programs, as you can see, on our remote learning video page. Below, you will find some examples of what our individual departments have been doing to provide a continuity of learning through distance learning.

As soon as the decision to close school was made, Rachael Schupak, teacher of the visually impaired,  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.

For our students who are deaf or hard of hearing, our teachers of the deaf (TOD) have been making signed videos such as this video of Debbie Winter, TOD, reading Good Night Moon.  As we moved past the first two weeks of distance learning, our staff continued to create learning packets and additional videos and resources for our students.

Our vocational program for high school students has carried on using videos for remote learning lessons. Shaynon Remillard introduced distance learning for students by creating videos about COVID-19 and the new distance learning Spanish, English, and ASL.  She then followed up with video lessons on various vocational and life skills topics such as laundry sorting.

Occupational therapy “School Tools” kit

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. Pamela Welch-Reinoso, speech-language pathologist has been creating videos for students using 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.

Our occupational therapy department has been busy making and delivering “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.
The physical therapy team has been 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.
Student smiling as she receives her “School Tools” kit

The nurses at First Children School continue to 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. The nursing staff also continues to be available to our employees as resources for COVID-19.

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.  As described above, staff are engaging our families and students in familiar and new ways.  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!