AEA/family success: AEA team helps two brothers tackle ‘many challenges’

Abel was diagnosed with autism when his mother was less than three weeks away from their second son’s due date. When Josiah was born, the doctors told the parents that because of Abel’s diagnosis and Josiah’s gender that he, too, had a greater chance of having autism.

“When we started having issues with Abel we were lost,” said Rachel, “We were first-time parents and had absolutely no idea what was going on with him. The great thing about these ladies (from Northwest AEA) is that I could tell them all the things we struggled with on a day-to-day basis, and they would help come up with ideas to try and help.”

The ladies that Rachel was referring to include Northwest AEA employees Kim Blankespoor, early childhood special education teacher/consultant; Amy Legg, speech-language pathologist; and Vicky Meyer, occupational therapist, along with Rock Valley Community School District preschool teachers.

Rachel and her husband, Jon, said one of the biggest challenges for Abel from the beginning was his anxiety. His parents couldn’t take him anywhere, or have anybody over, without him becoming so anxious that it would lead to a meltdown. So, with the AEA team, they taught Rachel and Jon to prepare him with pictures. She said that almost immediately his anxiety levels improved.

“To this day, we do our best to prepare him with any changes to his routine with visuals, and that works great for him,” reported Rachel. “At school, the team is working on expanding his communication, establishing routines, and also helping with social and play skills.”

The AEA team also assisted when Josiah showed sign of speech delay. They also discovered that he was behind in some social and emotional development. The AEA team, along with the parents, worked with him to get him to learn how to imitate, and also to establish some back-and-forth play. They would give the parents ideas on how to play with him, and how to get him to involve his parents with his play.

“Once we got some of those issues figured out, then we could really work on ways to promote speech,” Rachel said. “He’s still somewhat developmentally behind in some areas, but we are hopeful that with him in a classroom full of talking kids, and with the help of the teacher, paraprofessionals, and the speech therapist, we will see him bridge that gap, between other kids his age very soon.”

Rachel and Jon have been tremendous advocates for their sons and have done an excellent job of implementing what they have learned from the AEA. Their boys are both seeing good improvements and the parents are more comfortable in their roles.

“When we heard them say Abel had autism we were so scared and had no idea what to do next, or how to help our son,” Rachel reflected. “But the staff at the AEA was so great and helped us through many challenges. Between both of my sons, I have been working with the staff at the AEA for a few years now, and we can’t thank them enough for all they have done for our family.”

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Making a Difference in Education: Iowa’s AEAs Award Recipients

On April 5, 2018, Iowa’s AEAs presented their 2nd annual AEA Awards to five deserving recipients. This is the second year for the awards, which are an opportunity to recognize and celebrate outstanding candidates for their contributions to education and the AEA system.


Evan Abbey, Janet Stutz, Cindy Cavanagh, Teresa Wyant and Miller Roskamp

E. Robert Stephens Award

Evan Abbey, Project Director of AEA Learning Online, was awarded the Dr. E. Robert Stephens Award. The Dr. E. Robert Stephens award acknowledges contributions in the areas of innovation and support to local districts, AEAs, the Department of Education and other partners/organizations.

Over 50 years ago, Stephens was a graduate student at The University of Iowa. He was asked by the Iowa Department of Public Instruction and rural superintendents in the state to direct a study to find a prototype to distribute instructional services equitably and efficiently across Iowa. His vision eventually found its way to the Iowa Legislature in 1974, when Iowa’s AEAs were passed into law. This award is named after “Dr. Bob” to honor exemplary work by those associated with educational service agencies and AEAs.

Evan has been the driving force behind instruction in the areas of online and personalized learning in Iowa. His vision for AEA Learning Online has transformed how schools in Iowa use blended and online learning opportunities. With Evan’s support and expertise, AEA Learning Online has developed multiple systems with learning opportunities for adults and students.

“We are honored to present this award to Evan Abbey,” said Tom Lane, Executive Director of Iowa’s AEAs. “Evan provides strong leadership for this work and his vision benefits Iowa’s educational system.”

Friend of the AEAs

Miller Roskamp was named a Friend of the AEA. The Friend of the AEA acknowledges contributions by policymakers, citizens, board members, school district partners, businesses and organizations who have been great partners and demonstrate strong support for furthering the mission of Iowa’s AEAs.

Roskamp was nominated for his support of the River Hills School, a public sponsored special school for students with moderate, severe and profound developmental disabilities. The school serves students from age 3 through age 21. Approximately 120 students from local school districts within Central Rivers AEA attend River Hills School. The parent of a Rivers Hills graduate and respected community philanthropist, Roskamp took on a leadership role in renovating the infrastructure and spirit of River Hills. His motivation and leadership with a variety of initiatives and campaigns has resulted in significant building and grounds improvements. Students now enjoy safe and modern outdoor adapted playgrounds, and the learning environments in all 24 of the building classrooms have been enhanced.

“Miller is not only a friend of the AEA but also a friend to all children with special needs,” said Sam Miller, Central Rivers AEA Chief Administrator. “His support for the integrity-filled work of River Hills School and the larger community it represents has literally changed lives.”

Friend of the AEAs

Dr. Janet Stutz, superintendent of Grinnell-Newburg Community Schools, was also named a Friend of the AEA.

“Each day finds Janet focused on doing the best for the students of Grinnell-Newburg,” said Sam Miller, Central Rivers AEA Chief Administrator. “She openly admits the district can’t do the work that needs to be done without the support and cooperation of the AEA. Her administrative team meets regularly with the AEA regional administrator, who is always viewed as a partner at the table. Janet supports the AEA staff assigned to her district and believes they play an important part in the achievement of students.”

Innovative Creator Award

Cindy Cavanagh and Teresa Wyant, staff at Mississippi Bend AEA were selected for the Innovative Creator Award by Iowa’s AEAs. The Innovative Creator award celebrates innovative and creative thinking and actions to enrich student learning. Cavanagh and Wyant  were instrumental in creating the Assistive Technology Team at Mississippi Bend AEA. For over 25 years, they have worked with teachers, students and families to ensure each child has voice and an environment in which to thrive.

“It is with great appreciation that we present Cindy and Teresa with this award,”  said Tom Lane, Executive Director of Iowa’s AEAs. “We also thank you for the creative ways you offered students to stretch their minds in school and engage them in thoughtful, meaning activities.”

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AEA success: Girl shines at Hartley Elementary

Photo: Kalvin (Kambrie’s brother whom she plays school with at home), Katen (Kambrie’s mom), Kambrie, AEA speech-language pathologist Lindy Laubenthal, and Mrs. Julie Swenson. Article written by Julie Swenson, kindergarten teacher at Hartley Elementary.

Comprehensive Intervention Model, or CIM, training goes beyond the CIM intervention group. As a classroom teacher, I was able to use the knowledge I gained from CIM training this year to work collaboratively with Kambrie, a selective mute student in my classroom, her mom, and our school’s speech-language pathologist, Lindy Laubenthal, to help Kambrie learn to read. I loved the Phase 1 and Phase 2 lesson plan layout and CIM language so much that I used it with all my classroom guided reading groups.

Kambrie was a student in one of those guided reading groups. At the beginning of the year, Kambrie was reluctant to participate in any of the literacy activities that involved speaking. Over the course of the year, she slowly gained the confidence to participate in the classroom by first smiling, then gesturing, to eventually raising her hand to answer questions in her own way.

I had to be very creative this year. I used videos that mom made at home of Kambrie reading the little books we use in her guided reading group. I could then analyze the reading and plan how to help her. On several days after school, mom and I worked together to assess her on the FAST and some of the report card assessments.

As the year progressed, I mentioned to Lindy Laubenthal how mom and I were exchanging videos of Kambrie reading. Lindy started videotaping Kambrie’s readings in the speech room. Then we brainstormed ideas of how to get Kambrie’s voice heard in the classroom. Before classroom centers, Lindy would take Kambrie upstairs and video her reading a book. Shortly after, they would both come down for classroom centers and Lindy would lead a small guided reading group using the CIM layout that I wrote up for her. When it was Kambrie’s turn to share a page of reading they would play the iPad video.

Not only was Kambrie getting “CIM lessons” and language in the small speech center, she was getting it in another guided reading group with me. When it was Kambrie’s time to share her independent reading with me, I always asked if she wanted to read to me first. She would shake her head, “no.” So, I created another modification that worked! Kambrie would point to the words while I read the story. As I read, I would make a couple of mistakes and then think aloud how I fixed them so she could learn how to monitor her own reading and become aware of how to solve challenges when reading.

Kambrie benchmarked at Independent Level D by the end of her kindergarten year!

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Nominate Deserving Individuals for Iowa’s AEAs Annual Awards Recognition


Do you know someone who has made outstanding contributions to education and Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs)? Please take a few minutes to nominate this person for recognition!

Iowa’s AEAs bestow three awards annually to outstanding candidates for their contributions to education and the work of Iowa’s AEAs. To submit a nomination, complete this application by Feb. 2, 2018. Anyone is welcome to submit a nomination. The nominations will be reviewed by a selected group of AEA personnel in February. Both the nominating individual and those who are selected to be recognized will be notified the first week of March. Awards will be presented during the annual Iowa’s AEAs Boards of Directors’ Conference and the ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. on April 5, 2018 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Johnston.

The three awards and criteria can be found below. Each nomination should include examples of why your nominee should receive the award.

Friend of the AEA Award

Acknowledges contributions by policymakers, citizens, board members, school district partners, businesses and organizations who have been great partners and demonstrate strong support for furthering the mission of Iowa’s AEAs. Open to all policymakers, citizens, board members, school district partners, businesses and organizations.

E. Robert Stephens Award
Dr. E. Robert Stephens, better known as “Dr. Bob” and the father of Iowa’s AEAs, acknowledges contributions in the area of innovation and support to local districts, AEAs, the Department of Education and other partners/organizations. There should be evidence of outstanding contributions to the well-being of the educational community including:

  • Benefits of this individual’s leadership;
  • Creative leadership in inspiring and motivating others to achieve and contribute;
  • Strong commitment to the profession by active participation in professional activities; and
  • Evidence that the individual is respected by his/her colleagues and the community.

Open to AEA staff who serve in an administrative role and AEA board members.

Innovative Creator 
Celebrates amazingly innovative and creative thinking and actions to get results for students, educators, Iowa’s AEAs, school districts and other partners. Open to all AEA staff, board members, educators, policymakers, students…all of us are creators!

For more information, contact Connie Johnson, Iowa’s AEAs Communications Director, at (712) 335-6044.

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Burlington Autism Classroom Receives Support from GPAEA

Inside Sarah Maher’s 3rd, 4th, & 5th Grade Autism classroom at Corse Elementary in Burlington, students experience a colorful rich environment where they have the freedom to learn and experience success daily.

Great Prairie Area Education Agency’s Challenging Behavior & Autism Team have supported Ms. Maher and her students the past year in a variety of capacities. From professional development and training to observations and consultation on a case-by-case basis. “I guess the most important thing to me is that it’s a group effort,” Maher said. “It’s good staff, good leadership and a lot of other support staff outside of this room that has helped a lot.”

Learn more about supports and services from GPAEA at

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Specially Designed Instruction in Action at North Mahaska

Inside Lindsay Miller’s North Mahaska classroom students receive small group specially designed instruction (SDI) tailored to the unique needs of each child. “We’ve noticed an increase in student achievement and also in student’s rate of progress since we started the SDI project,” Miller comments. “Its nice to see some of our students actually make that ambitious growth!”

Iowa’s SDI program works for learners of all kinds by focusing on literacy in five strands of work: Pre-K, K-6, Learners with Significant Disabilities, Assistive Technology, Family School Partnerships. The framework is the result of multiple years of work from the Area Education Agency Directors of Special Education, the Iowa Department of Education, and 150 other members of the Iowa educational system.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the AEA throughout the SDI project.” Great Prairie AEA staff provide large group professional development to teachers of students with IEPs in Grades 3-5, as well as on-site support which includes demonstration of lessons, observation of teachers, coaching, data collection and data analysis of Universal Screening, Progress Monitoring, and Iowa Assessments.

Special thanks and shoutout to the following GPAEA Staff who have helped North Mahaska find success with SDI:

  • Lynn Hodgeman, Special Education Consultant
  • Jaci Jarmes, Special Education Consultant
  • Jim Cope, Regional Director
  • Dr. Angelisa Fynaardt, Associate Administrator
  • Mike Stiemsma, School Improvement Consultant

Also, thank you to Lindsay Miller and North Mahaska for your leadership and all that you do to help students achieve.

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Davis County Student Finds Success with Assistive Technology

Ellie Hamilton, Assistive Technology Specialist

Stock Photo. No photo available of Wendy.

Stock Photo. No photo available of Wendy.

Wendy is a third grader at Davis County Elementary school in Bloomfield Iowa. Wendy is Amish. She has Cerebral Palsy (CP) and is in a wheelchair. Cerebral Palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth (Mayo Clinic, 2016).

What AT Equipment is being used:

Wendy is using a clock communicator where words are attached and Wendy can choose a word using the Gooseneck wobble switch. The Davis County team completed the SETT (student, environment, tasks, & tools) form. Next, they did a trial with the the clock communicator and gooseneck wobble switch by borrowing the items from the AEA Media Center. The team took data and determined the items were a good fit for Wendy.

After documenting the assistive technology items for Wendy on the IEP (individualized education plan) on tab B and tab F (AT IEP Guidance from the procedures manual ), the Davis County School District purchased two clock communicators and one wobble switch for her. One clock communicator stays downstairs in the special education setting and the other stays upstairs in the general education setting. Wendy uses both her hand and her head to activate the wobble switch. She decides which works best for her when she is using the clock communicator and wobble switch.

Wendy is also using the Alternative pencil. Her special education teacher uses this resource to complete the requirements for ELI (Early Literacy Implementation). Wendy needed a tool with access to all twenty-six letters of the alphabet and for alternate assessment.  The Alternative pencil assists Wendy to have access to the letters to begin spelling and writing words. She can identify her written name and knows all of her letters and letter sounds.

What was she doing before?

Wendy was using an informal eye gaze with two choices before trying new assistive technology tools. Her paraeducator and teachers held up two cards and she would make a choice with her eyes. The team notes this method was faster than waiting for her to activate her switch.

When she uses the switch Wendy is more motivated, independent, and has more than two choices. Only having two choices limited Wendy academically and with her peers. 

Now Wendy can sequence, make more than one choice at a time, participate, and interact with her peers. Wendy has demonstrated her assistive technology tools for her classmates so they know how to communicate with her.

Thank you to Wendy’s dedicated team!


  • Mrs. Charlotte Followwill, Special Educator
  • Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Thompson, Regular Education Teachers

Support Staff: Therese Sharp, para-educator

AEA Staff:

  • Joe Hudson, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant
  • Marty Hudson, Occupational Therapist
  • Christine Reigel, Speech-Language Pathologist
    Tammy Greiner, Speech-Language Pathology Assistant
  • Amanda Steinbach, Physical Therapist
  • Melissa Grooms, Physical Therapy Assistant
  • Robin Larrington, Special Education Consultant
  • Kibben Rumohr, School Social Worker


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Helping Zeke shine

Meet Zeke, a seven-year-old student at Gilmore City-Bradgate who lives in Gilmore City with mom, dad, sister and brother. Zeke started receiving Early ACCESS services through Prairie Lakes AEA as an infant to treat him for a movement disorder. He received occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language and early childhood special education services at home, until age 3 when Zeke transitioned to the preschool at Gilmore City where he continues to receive AEA services.

Becoming more independent and being able to communicate his wants and needs are two goals that the district, his family and AEA staff are working toward. Adapted equipment, including a gait trainer and power chair helps Zeke with his mobility. He also spends time building up his strength by crawling and using special supported chairs to assist with his sitting skills. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), both low-tech, with pictures, and high tech, with an iPad and a communication app help Zeke communicate his desires.

Zeke is a very happy child that is always on the move. He is a joy to work with  ~ his personality is so fun!


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AEAs play daily ‘behind-the-scenes’ role in a child’s education

Written by Beth Strike, APR, who is the director of creative services with Area Education Agency 267

Those of us who have been employed by Iowa’s Area Education Agency (AEAs) system are used to the puzzled looks we get from neighbors and friends when we say that we work for the Area Education Agency — or “AEA” — system. Despite our best efforts over the last 40 or so years, too few people still truly understand the vital role that we play in helping all of Iowa’s children achieve–mostly because the majority of the time, that role is “behind-the-scenes” in local school districts.

What is an AEA? Here are just a few of the ways that we are serving your community’s students.

• Frequently, our staff members are the ones leading the professional learning that your child’s teachers are receiving when there are “no school” or “early dismissal” days. Our staff members receive a great deal of training on best practices in teaching and learning and then work directly with local teachers to help those ideas get implemented into the classroom.

• Your local school district is involved in the Teacher Leadership and Compensation program which requires that lead teachers have access to high quality professional learning around improving classroom practices. This training likely comes from your local Area Education Agency whose professional learning consultants designed a specialized plan for the schools it serves.

• Has your school district launched a new reading initiative? Adopted a new assessment? It’s likely that an AEA staff member may have introduced the initiative and is working quietly in the background helping to support classroom teachers with putting new strategies into regular practice.

• How about the students with special needs in your school district? Those students are regularly seen by AEA professionals who have master’s degrees in key areas like psychology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and more. These professionals work closely with the classroom teacher to identify student-specific targets for growth and help to ensure that progress is being made so that each child can reach his/her maximum potential. However, if you don’t have a child with special needs, you would probably never even know about this important service that impacts over 8,000 children in our area of the state.

• Step into many classrooms today and you will likely notice a number of students-used materials like play-away books, iPads, robots, and more. Most of these materials are items that school districts could not afford to purchase on their own so the AEA purchases them and loans them out to every school district so that no child goes without the opportunity to learn from them.

These are just a few of the many services provided by your local AEA. Services are funded through a combination of federal-aid and state-aid payments; legislatively controlled property tax; federal, state and private grants; and tuition for classes. Without ongoing support from these sources, the educational experience each child receives in Iowa would not be nearly the same.

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Meet Skyler

Jennifer Woodley, Public Relations Coordinator

“She’s walked herself right out of physical therapy!” exclaims Janet Hurt, Physical Therapist for Great Prairie AEA.

Now 18 months old, Skyler has received Physical Therapy Services from Great Prairie AEA since she was 7 months. Doctors feared the twin wouldn’t live past birth, but her spirit proved everyone wrong.

Skyler’s parents Lindsey and Charlie made numerous trips to the University of Iowa for consultation. “We went to the University at 18 weeks [of pregnancy] and the first thing they told us was that she probably had down syndrome and she was so small she probably wouldn’t live to birth,” Lindsey explained. “A month later we came back for a checkup ultrasound and they said well, we’re sorry to tell you but, we don’t think it is down syndrome, we think that most likely it is triploidy, which is not compatible with life.” Determined to carry to term, Lindsey said that at 34 weeks and 2 days after a checkup she was induced because Skyler’s umbilical cord was failing. “After delivery they said, oh, she looks just fine, we don’t need to do genetic testing.” The parents insisted and the results came back totally normal.

Skyler and her twin Madison are both doing well and Skyler has even advanced ahead of her sister in some areas. She has been doing so well that Great Prairie AEA Physical Therapist Janet Hurt will no longer schedule official sessions, but will instead check-in on an as needed basis, “[Skyler] has such a strong will… she’s just tough!”

Click here to learn more about Physical Therapy Services from Great Prairie AEA.

Thank you to Lindsey and Charlie for allowing us to share Skyler’s story and a very special thank you to Janet Hurt and the entire Physical Therapy team at Great Prairie AEA for all that you do for area children and families. 

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