Even though voting was in progress throughout the nation Tuesday night, around 30 people came to show support, share information and celebrate the successes of Ashe County’s exceptional children and excellent teachers and administrators.
“I am very pleased with the turnout and diverse representation from community members, to school administrators and teachers, to parents,” said Terry Richardson, Exceptional Children’s Director.
An exceptional child is typically a child with any disability, disorder or delay that hinders his or her ability to learn under average circumstances.
Following a short welcome by Richardson, several EC teachers and teachers’ assistants presented different aspects of their jobs working with exceptional children. Among those presenting were Casey Smith from Blue Ridge Elemenary, Megan Young from Mountain View Elementary, Cindy Wells from BRE, Sara Benfield from Westwood Elementary, Holly McClure from Ashe County Middle School, Pachia Brinegar from ACMS and Jennifer Treva from Ashe County High School.
Smith presented information on a program for improving instruction for students with disabilities. The N. C. State Improvement Project is a research based, best practice method for instruction in reading and math that has improved the quality of instruction and increased positive learning experiences for EC students.
“Our next step in Ashe is to create an advisory board to make sure we’re implementing our best practice methods. The board would include EC teachers and a parent,” said Smith.
Young and her assistant Alecia Giles demonstrated how visual thinking maps assist children in learning.
“We use thinking maps to accommodate students with processing delays. The maps help students visualize concepts,” said Young. The tiers of thinking maps vary from high to no assistance for students, depending on their level of independence.
Wells demonstrated some engaging technology with multi-sensory components that is available to students.
“We’re lucky to have a central office and administration that allows students access to current technology. The students can blow you away when given the right tools to show you what they know,” Wells said.
She said that even non-verbal children can use this technology to demonstrate their understanding of certain concepts.
Benfield along with another EC teacher at her school started a social skills club for their students in which the students set self-directed goals. These skills that most people take for granted are important to students’ success. “In order for children to be functional, they have to be able to collaborate with another person, be it another child, or an adult. Our goal is to help them be successful in the classroom and in the general curriculum at large,” said Benfield.
McClure spoke about the unique situation of the middle school where all of the Ashe County children cone together for the first time. ACMS’s EC community consists of 68 students, four teachers, and three assistants whose classes take a variety of formats from self contained classrooms, to pulling students out of regular classes to fully integrated classrooms with a standard curriculum teacher as well as an EC teacher.
“Our main focus is to highlight our students and show their successes,” said McClure.
A teacher’s assistant and mother of two exceptional children, Brinegar shared a poem called “Welcome to Holland” about the expectations of a mother for her children. The poem used the analogy of planning a trip to Italy and all the preparations for a certain course being interrupted when the plane lands in Holland instead. The place is no worse, just different, but changing one’s mind from set expectations can be difficult, just like a parent who learns their child has special needs. Brinegar said, “My Holland is full of love, and hugs, and dinosaurs.”
Brinegar expressed how difficult it was at first for her to come to terms with her children’s disabilities, but what a rewarding experience it had become.
The last presenter of the evening was Treva who is involved in the Occupational Course of Study Community Partnership. “This program focuses on getting them ready for the real world,” said Treva. A project which tied hands-on service experience to school curriculum involved students working in a greenhouse and with help from their teacher, writing a description chronicling their achievements. Hopefully more projects like this one are ahead, since the program received a Bright Ideas grant.
In closing, Richardson said, “I am so proud of the support we have from our administration and the superintendent and all they have done for our program.”