Scuba Diving Experience Launches DSM Students’ Blogs

By Linda Moehring & Deb Vail

Scuba2On a chilly day in March, fourth and fifth graders from Des Moines’ Downtown School warmed up and dove deep during an exciting scuba diving experience. The students were able to do one-onone diving with certified instructors, and following the dive, launched their own blogs by writing about this unique and fun learning experience. The project was a collaborative effort between two Heartland AEA consultants, Linda Moehring, Professional Learning & Leadership Consultant, and Deb Vail, Instructional Technology Consultant, and two Des Moines Public Schools teachers, Teri Arbogast and Tracey Donovan.

Moehring, Vail, Arbogast and Donovan have become a powerful collaborative team, working together to support the development of a classroom blog as well as the individual student blogs. The scuba diving experience provided a great opportunity to develop a project-based learning experience and generate excitement for the students to launch their personal blogs.

As a certified diver, Vail had the experience and connections necessary to set up the project. The fourth and fifth graders spent the morning scuba diving in the Des Moines Public Schools’ Central Campus pool. Students were paired with one of four certified divers including a Des Moines police sergeant, two divers from Leyden’s Dive Shop and Vail. Students were fitted with the necessary gear thanks to Leyden’s. Each student worked alongside a certified diver to learn how to breathe underwater and explore using the strange feeling and sounding apparatus.

Support from Aaron Cook (Video/ Multimedia Technology Support Specialist/JO) was invaluable. He swam among the participants taking both above surface and underwater photos and video clips, recording the sights and sounds students experienced. His photos and videos added an incalculable dimension to the blogs.

The afternoon of the dive, Vail and Moehring returned to the classroom to provide support as students blogged about the event. Armed with Cook’s photos, video clips and their own personal experiences diving, students began their blog entries. Blogs were the perfect medium for student writing as they provided authentic audiences.

The experience was a blend of rigorous academic content, real world experiences, authentic technology integration and just plain fun.

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Parent & Principal Tweets Thank You Message for Son’s AEA Services

Cal Lane

Cal Lane

It all began with a tweet: “Never knew all AEAs do until I saw what they did for this dude the first 3 yrs. of his life! #thankful.” Accompanying the tweet (a 140-character message on the social media site, Twitter) was a picture of a chipper blonde-haired boy. With a little digging we found out who this little “dude” is. Parent and Jensen Elementary Principal (Urbandale), Mark Lane, responded to our query:

“Our youngest son Calhoun (Cal) was born prematurely and spent almost two weeks in the NICU (neo-natal intensive care unit) at Mercy.”

Cal’s stay at the NICU automatically made him eligible for Early ACCESS services available through Heartland AEA. Early ACCESS services are not regarded as special education, rather as a set of supports in place for children birth to age 3 who may need some assistance to reach developmental milestones.

Through Cal’s early care, it was recommended that the family do a hearing assessment. From the assessment, the family learned that Cal had a moderate hearing loss in his left ear. He was fitted for a hearing aid before he was 2 months old.

During the first few years of Cal’s life, Jennifer Downs, a school social worker, Anne-Michelle Pedersen, itinerant teacher for the Deaf/hard of Hearing, and Heidi Webber, occupational therapist, visited the Lane home as part of the AEA’s Early ACCESS program.

Cal was closely monitored to ensure he was reaching the same communication
milestones as his hearing peers. Other areas of his development were also assessed such as his fine motor, gross motor, cognitive, problem-solving and social-emotional skills.

As part of Cal’s early intervention plan, the AEA staff encouraged his parents, Mark and Carla, to use some communication strategies that would help improve Cal’s receptive and expressive skills. These strategies included making sure background noise was minimized and that people looked at Cal when they talked to him. AEA staff also linked Mark and Carla to resources such as Signing Time! DVDs, sign language classes and auditory listening activities that would help improve Cal’s comprehension skills.

Downs credits much of Cal’s success to his parents. “We maybe provided some ideas and strategies they could use, but they were the real teachers,” she said. “They followed through and worked with him on a daily basis.”

The hard work of everyone involved paid off. When Cal turned 3 ½ years old, it was determined that he no longer needed AEA services because he was doing so well. Before she bid the Lane family farewell, Pedersen made sure to talk to Mark and Carla about any future assistance the AEA could provide if Cal needed extra support in school because of his hearing loss.

“We feel lucky to have been in the NICU and for all the support that followed,” Mark said. “Their (AEA staff members’) work with Cal and the training they gave us set him on a road to school readiness. It would have been very different had we not been aware of Cal’s loss until he had gotten to kindergarten.”

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Andrew’s Awakening: AEA/School Team Help Boy Learn Positive Communication

Andrew Alfano

Andrew Alfano

Waukee junior high student Andrew Alfano enjoys dancing at his weekly Sunday dance class. Perhaps he enjoys dancing as a way to express himself as he has limited ability to do so verbally. Andrew has autism and is mostly non-verbal; however, with the help of his teachers and Heartland AEA staff, Andrew has found success learning to express himself.

Andrew and his family moved from out-of-state to the Waukee area three years ago. At his new Waukee school, Andrew used a device to help him communicate, needed a shortened school day and received direct instruction in a 2:1 setting which included a special education teacher and an associate in a contained classroom.

In November 2011, Andrew stopped using his communication device and became more physically aggressive and even violent toward his teachers. For his safety and that of his teachers, it was imperative to find out what Andrew was trying to communicate with his behavior so he could be taught more productive and appropriate ways to express his needs.

Heartland AEA staff members Stacy Volmer, a school psychologist; Emily Donovan, a school social worker; Vicki Sanders, a school social worker; Kris Larsen, a school social worker; and Frances (Budreck) Davis, a school Psychologist, conducted a functional behavior analysis to determine the function or “why” Andrew was engaging in problem behavior. The team saw the most problem behavior when work was presented and his favorite items (videos and iPad) were removed.

After the assessment and with the support of the district’s special education director and building principal, Donovan and Larsen spent several weeks training two associates and Andrew’s teacher on how to implement his behavior intervention plan.

“The paraeducators and building principals were some of his (Andrew’s) biggest cheerleaders,” Donovan said. “They could see the sweet boy in his eyes and knew that there was a really great kid with lots of skills and talents inside waiting for us to untap them.”

Donovan, Larsen and Andrew’s teachers did preference assessments to identify his favorite things so that they could be used as rewards to reinforce appropriate behavior. Andrew was taught how to request “play” by using sign language after he had finished a task or when he needed a break. His teacher would then let Andrew take a few minutes to watch a video or use the iPad. With this strategy, Andrew learned that using a more appropriate form of communication was more effective in getting his needs met than problem behavior.

With the AEA’s assistance, Andrew’s school team was quickly able to transition him from a contained setting (a room with just him and adults) to a classroom where he shared a teacher among seven students. Currently, Andrew is working in a classroom where he has his own workstation and a 1:1 associate who helps to facilitate his behavior plan. His ability to communicate his needs has been the most significant success. He is able to participate in small group instruction during science and language arts and attends family and consumer science and PE classes with his general education peers.

“This has been an amazing collaboration of people using their knowledge and strengths in order to help a student have success,” Kristine Hickman, Andrew’s special education teacher, said. “We’re thrilled with what Andrew has been able to achieve and continue to look forward to seeing him continue to grow.”

Donovan echoes Hickman’s enthusiasm and also attributes a large part of Andrew’s success to his family, saying, “Andrew’s family was integral in trusting the process and hanging with us through some stressful and trying times.”

Andrew’s mother, Miki, appreciates the help and support that was given to Andrew and thanks everyone who has helped her son.

Watch Andrew’s transformation in the video below.

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Ray’s family finds hope through AEA staff

Ray Goettsch

Ray Goettsch

Excerpts written by Ray’s mom, Keely Goettsch.

Raymond, aka Ray, was welcomed into the world on May 14, 2010, by his mom, dad, sister and two brothers. His life started with a routine doctor visit at 35 weeks with an ultrasound tracking his weight because doctors knew he had intestinal issues. The ultrasound showed Raymond would need to be delivered that day due to his decline in weight. The prior week, Ray was in the 68th percentile for weight for his gestation, but the ultrasound now showed that he was down to five percent.

“Ray is a fighter, and we are thankful he is because in the minutes, hours and days to follow, it would take being a fighter to survive,” Keely Goettsch, Ray’s mom, reflected.

Ray was born at 8:50 p.m. that evening, after his heart rate dropped. Keely was rushed into the surgery room for an emergency C-section. They would later find out that the umbilical cord was only about a foot long. After Ray was born, he was given a quick kiss by his mom and promptly taken to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).

The first time Keely saw Ray, he was sleeping. The NICU doctor came to see him, and he said something that both shocked and scared the family.

“He said that he wanted to do a chromosome test on Ray due to his square forehead and some other traits,” said Keely. “We agreed that we didn’t know much about it!”

Five days later, the preliminary test results came in and Ray was confirmed to have Trisomy 21, better known as Down’s Syndrome. According to Keely, Ray really struggled with his intestinal issues for several days after that. Doctors ran every kind of test they could, and it always ended up with no answer.

Once, Ray got so bad that the family was called to the NICU. Ray was so full of stool that it was coming out of his mouth. Struggling with this for two more weeks, the NICU doctor called Children’s Hospital in Omaha to ask some questions about what to do.

The doctors in Omaha suggested a few things until Ray was strong enough to make it to Omaha for a biopsy. Less than a week from that day, after 46 days in the NICU in Sioux City, Ray was transferred by ambulance to Children’s Hospital to do a biopsy. The biopsy concluded that Ray had Hirshsprungs Disease (a lack of nerves in the intestinal tract).

Keely says of that day, “I can safely say that we were overwhelmed, to say the least; but, looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way!”

Once Ray grew strong enough, he got to come home with a lot of medical attention. Ray would have to have surgery for his Hirshsprungs, but he would have to get stronger first.

Keely said she received a call from Northwest AEA Early ACCESS teacher/service coordinator, Brenna Franken, who wanted to evaluate Ray. The family agreed and was so happy to work with the AEA staff.

“These ladies have helped our son, and they have a place in our hearts forever,” explained Keely.

Ray started with Brenna, who helped the family with the simple stuff, like getting Ray on Medicaid, testing his adjusted age and more. She has also helped them through his four surgeries.

As Ray got older, his ability to do more things also grew. He began speech therapy with AEA speech-language pathologist, Amanda Bengtson. Amanda also rode the bus route with Ray from the family’s home to the babysitter’s home after therapy.

AEA physical therapist, Jennifer Kaskey, started to visit him and work on his low muscle tone. AEA occupational therapist, Ann Hardy, also started to work on his feeding. He is now running and is stronger than ever. He also feeds himself which is one of his favorite things to do.

After three years with the AEA in Raymond’s life, it was time to transition to school and he started this last fall. The family had a meeting to get everyone on the same page with Ray.

“The AEA really helped with this transition. Ray is doing so well in school. He loves it so much; and every day, he wants to go to school and ride the bus,” said Keely. “The AEA is still working with him in school and strengthens him day by day. We are so thankful for the AEA. If not for them, we would have lost out on a world with so much to offer our son and his special needs!”

Ray is a fighter and continues to fight every day with a great support system behind him!

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Helping Children with Autism: Jaxon’s story

“Pizza, please.” Words a mother was overjoyed to hear come from her young son who struggles with autism. This mom shares how the Keystone AEA Autism Resource Team has helped Jaxon continue to learn and gain independence.

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Transition: Working to Build a Life Beyond the Classroom

Learn how Elias, a student struggling with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, is working toward building a life after high school with the help of Area Education Agency 267’s Farrah Olson.

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Northwest AEA/Denison success: Integrating the Multi-Tiered System of Supports

Sarah Wiebers, Title I educator, and student Jesus Hernandez

Sarah Wiebers, Title I educator, and student Jesus Hernandez

Denison Elementary and Broadway Elementary in Denison CSD were chosen as two of the initial schools to be trained in the C4K-Response to Intervention (Rti) initiative.  Response to Invention (Rti) is now known in Iowa as the MTSS – Multi-tiered System of Supports. The Denison CSD C4K Leadership Team has found this initiative to be complementary to its current collaborative model. The C4K Leadership has received extensive training from the Iowa Department of Education in the implementation of the C4K/RtI initiative.

The intent of C4K is to work more effectively and efficiently as a full educational system to accomplish a few agreed upon priorities. The C4K initial priority focus, collective efforts and resources are focusing on early literacy and closing the achievement gaps, with a goal that every child will be proficient by the end of third grade. The C4K selected this priority focus because of the integral role literacy proficiency plays for success in all other academic and social areas.

Schools in the first phase are encouraged to assess all students in the universal screenings in the fall, winter and spring. This information is another data point to use to improve reading. Denison will also be one of the first schools to implement the assessments in Spanish as a pilot for the Iowa Department of Education.

Denison CSD elementary students in preschool through fifth grade are being assessed in the following universal screenings:
• preschool:  Individual Growth & Development Indicators (IGDIs)
(78 students)
• kindergarten and first grade: FAST Early Reading (314 students)
• second grade through fifth grade: (CBM- Reading) Curriculum Based Measurement, and third through fifth grade: (aReading) Adaptive Reading (611 students)

Marlin Jeffers, instructional coach and external coach for the district, commented that the success of this initiative at Denison CSD is because of the outstanding administrative and teaching staff and high level of technology assistance. He went on to say, “The current model of having academic and behavior interventionists is also an asset to the district and complements the MTSS initiative.”

The Denison CSD administrators have taken the training, as well as assessing students. The administrators are instrumental in the success of the new initative as well as supporting teachers through the training and implementation of the MTSS.The administrators are: Chris Schulz, Steve Meinen, Heather Langenfeld and Scott Moran.

Each building has a technologist that not only works with students on technology skill sets, but also assists teachers in implementation of technology in the curriculum. On the leadership team, they provide insight on data analysis. This technology team consists of Greg Gunderson, Darin Johnson and Seth Young. These technology specialists are available to all staff and students to problem solve in a moment’s notice. Technology is a major goal of the district for staff and students.

Interventionists are also in each building to assist students in academic areas and also social, emotional and behavioral needs. This has proven over time to be beneficial for the success of students. The interventionists are Trevor Urich and Jaynee Ricke.

Having Title I and reading teachers assist through their expertise in reading assessment, data collection and analysis. The Title I and Lead reading teachers are: Cheri Emery, Alyssa Rihner, Steph Schmadeke, Diane Ettleman, Tara Malcom and Sarah Wiebers.

Jaynee Ricke, internal coach, also commented that the FAST and IGDIs testing system has worked at Denison Elementary Schools for many reasons:

“Teachers have met in grade level groups weekly to discuss student progress, analyze data and make instructional decisions to meet the students’ needs in all areas of the curriculum, as well as socially and emotionally. We have been meeting in grade level groups for the past 12 years. The FAST and IGDI results provide us another picture of skill level of our students and provide a systematic approach to provide interventions to improve student achievement. The data is also highlighted during our PLC’s time and SAT meetings where we discuss all data collected to provide assistance for student success.”

Deb Krager, a facilitator at Northwest AEA, has observed that the State of Iowa’s MTSS has been effectively implemented at the Denison Community Schools (K-5).

“The K-3 and the 4-5 student assistance teams have been able to consider the fall universal screening data when determining instructional interventions at the targeted and intensive levels,” Krager said. “The district has also developed and adopted their own three-tiered system where each level is clearly defined with specific criteria to follow at each tier. The SAT team uses the visual tiered system as a way to monitor student progress by using a student data wall.”

This systematic process uses evidence-based curriculum and instruction. By using the MTSS universal screening three times a year (fall, winter, and spring), it allows teachers and administrators to monitor student progress at a local level, as well as at a state level as the year progresses.

The universal screening data collected also allows progress-monitoring data to be collected and used to guide instruction. Winter testing that Denison conducted is now being used to analyze the student data to make more instructional decisions.

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