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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Northwest AEA/school success: Girl with impairments advocates for safety

Ana2_A9890FA3EEC9CBroadway Elementary student, Ana Pocasangre, is flagged by her para-professional on the right, Ann Katzer, and on the left is her general education teacher, Jackie Scheuring. 

Ana Pocasangre is a fifth-grade student at Broadway Elementary in Denison, Iowa, who has proven to be a skilled sales person despite her young age. Ana has a vision impairment that necessitates the assistance of a talented para-professional in the school, Ann Katzer, and services from Northwest Area Education Agency, in addition to her general education classroom setting. As part of her IEP, professionals from the AEA help Ana with her speech, vision and educational programming.

With guidance from her educators, she recently took the initiative to write to Mike Pardun, the superintendent of Denison CSD, to explain how a safety issue at the school was affecting her and how it might bring harm to others.

One day last December while Ana was in the auditorium with her teacher, Jackie Scheuring, she mentioned that the steps to the stage were dangerous because there were no handrails for support. It was especially tricky for Ana because of her vision problem.

Mrs. Scheuring agreed and encouraged Ana to choose that as her topic for her persuasive letter assignment in her class. With the help of her para-professional, Ana penned a letter to Mr. Pardun requesting that handrails be installed so that no one would fall walking up or down the steps.

Not only did the superintendent respond quickly to Ana’s letter, he worked with the custodial staff at the school to install a new handrail very soon after receiving the pitch from the fifth-grader.

“Ana has taught me that there is no limit when it comes to being able to learn,” said Mrs. Scheuring. “In the right settings and with the right support, you can accomplish any goal set in front of you. Through her actions, I have learned what it truly means to persevere. I am honored to have been able to teach her.”

Mary Bruck, special education strategist at Northwest AEA who works with Ana, has also been very impressed with what Ana has accomplished and said she is a “pretty outstanding” student.

“I think it is interesting how Ana’s request seems to fall outside the realm of what other students her age might ask for,” explained Mrs. Bruck. “And even though the handrail benefits her, I know her thinking was also in protecting other students. That is just Ana’s personality.”

Ana is a thoughtful young girl who is surrounded by compassionate people encouraging her to advocate for herself and others. By all standards, she is doing an excellent job!

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Northwest AEA/school success: Boy with speech delay graduates out of therapy

Luke_94E694D55C731When Luke Vande Griend was two years old, his mom said he would speak only two words. Instead of using words, Luke would point to what he needed or wanted. Concerned with his limited vocabulary, parents Allison and Derek tried to work as best they could with Luke on his language skills. That’s when frustration set in.

“The more I tried to work with him, the more he and I became frustrated,” said Allison Vande Griend.

The Vande Griends called Northwest Area Education Agency and were introduced to Meg Otto, an Early ACCESS teacher from the AEA, and Lynn Cole, speech-language pathologist at the AEA, who got the ball rolling when Luke entered preschool at South O’Brien. They worked collaboratively with Luke’s preschool teacher, Mrs. Golden.

“All of these individuals really made learning fun,” Allison stated. “I saw the excitement to want to learn things where we didn’t see that drive before with Luke.”

The Vande Griends believe the hands-on learning was what really excited Luke. The communication skills he built at this stage gave him confidence in the preschool classroom with new friends, some of whom also struggled.

“He really felt okay to be himself and that made him want to learn even more,” explained Allison.

Lynn Cole continued working with Luke until this school year when he graduated from speech therapy. The Vande Griends would encourage any parent who has a concern about their child to call the AEA. They say take action and don’t worry about what others will think.

“I look back now and think how did I even worry about such a thing,” said Allison. “Society can be harsh but our children’s future should outweigh any of society’s cruelties.”

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Northwest AEA/school success: Three siblings overcome obstacles with AEA services

Siblings Kendra, Evie and Samuel have all successfully battled through speech delays with the help of AEA employees. Photo submitted by their mom, Jennifer TenKley.

Jennifer TenKley is very appreciative of AEA staff members, Lynn Cole and Meg Otto, for the services they have provided her three children: Samuel, Evie and Kendra. The children attend school in the South O’Brien Community School District and all displayed speech delays.

Lynn is a speech-language pathologist and Meg is an early childhood special education teacher, both at Northwest AEA. Without them, Jennifer says she believes her kids may have needed to learn sign language and fears they would be struggling with communication.

Both Samuel and Evie have “graduated” out of therapy, and youngest child, Kendra, is almost done with speech services. She can communicate much more clearly than in the past.

“Kendra has a hard time being understood by people; and when they ask her to repeat, she gets shy and doesn’t want to talk,” Jennifer explained. “I hope that someday…she will be better off with talking to people.”

Jennifer believes the services of the AEA, along with the help of the school district, has helped her kids down the path of success.

“I would just like to thank everyone who has touched my children’s lives with their kindness and help. I couldn’t thank any of you guys enough for everything you did and keep doing for my children,” said Jennifer. “It means the world to me as a mom that you guys work so hard for kids.”

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Northwest AEA/school success: Reading Recovery teacher shares her son’s journey

The Wright family celebrates at Morningside College, where James received a degree in business administration. From left to right are London, Randy, James, Pat, Matthew, and Michael. The second photo is a younger James who was placed in Reading Recovery, which paved the way for him to become a reader and writer.

Where Are They Now? A Positive Outcome and Influence

by Pat Wright l Reprinted with permission from the Journal of Reading Recovery Fall 2015

As a former Reading Recovery teacher I tend to judge the success of this intervention by its discontinuation rate. Reading Recovery teachers work very diligently to ensure that the children they teach are receiving the most powerful strategies to mold them into successful readers and writers. Many students have become successful members of the literary community with the help of these dedicated teachers.

But what happens to those students who just don’t make the gains to discontinue? Do they continue to struggle throughout their educational career? Are they so frustrated with their struggle that they give up? As a parent I witnessed the journey of one such child.

My son, James, was identified as one of the lowest-achieving students in his first-grade classroom. As a kindergarten student he just couldn’t seem to put the pieces together to make sense of what he was seeing on the page. This was very frustrating to me as a Reading Recovery teacher. Of course I worked with him at home, but sometimes a mom who is a teacher is not the best person to teach her own child. We live in a small community and at the time I was the sole Reading Recovery teacher in our school district. I knew I could not build the kind of rapport with James that is needed to make struggling readers successful. I was at a loss. The intervention that I had seen be successful with so many students was not going to work for my child because of me. Thank goodness for a very dedicated and supportive teacher leader.

Pat Fostvedt-Oxendale, the teacher leader at Northwest Area Education Agency in Sioux City, agreed to work with James. She was already teaching children in another district but stopped on her drive into the office in Sioux City to teach James. Unfortunately, James did not make the gains needed to discontinue and was placed in special education. James continued to be a part of the special education program throughout middle and high school. However, I believe, that even though he did not make the gains needed to label him discontinued from Reading Recovery, his time as a Reading Recovery student laid the foundation for future success.

As I watched him during the time he was in Reading Recovery I observed many positive things. First and foremost, he was starting to believe that he could read even though it was still very difficult. He learned that through hard work he could be successful and that there were people who believed he could read. Reading Recovery teachers are those who believe and encourage the students they teach while searching for the best methods and strategies to teach the struggling readers they encounter everyday.

James may have not have been a positive statistic as far as Reading Recovery data are concerned, but his time in that intervention had a very positive influence for years that followed in his educational career. Even though he did not make rapid gains, the foundation needed to become a reader and writer was laid. With the support of many other teachers like Pat Fostvedt-Oxendale, James graduated from Woodbury Central High School in 2011 with a GPA of 3.0 and went on to attend Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. As a parent, I am proud to say that he was a part of the recent commencement ceremony at Morningside College and graduated with a degree in business administration.

Discontinuation continues to be, as it should, the goal for all students served in Reading Recovery. However, those students whose outcome in Reading Recovery we often view as a disappointment, due to their lack of accelerated progress, have also been greatly impacted by the dedication of those involved with Reading Recovery. It is my belief that all students touched by this intervention have taken something positive away from this experience.

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