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School ensures no one is left behind in receiving virtual education

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Editor’s note: It wouldn’t be surprising if you heard about Riverdale Heights Elementary before. That’s because the Pleasant Valley Community School District elementary has been honored many times with statewide awards. So it should come as no surprise you’re hearing about them again. This time, in the midst of the pandemic, this school is recognized for its delivery of virtual learning to students with disabilities who are on Individualized Education Programs (IEP).

Special education teacher Alyssa VanSpeybroeck and her team put together a comprehensive approach to teaching their charges virtually. As the school’s principal, Jennifer Richardson said, “The work that she and our special education team are doing for kids is wonderful. They have really stepped up to the challenge.”

Alyssa VanSpeybroeck

Alyssa VanSpeybroeck

Here is VanSpeybroeck’s reflection on the last two months.

It is the vision of the Pleasant Valley Community School District to provide the finest academic and extra-curricular programs in the state – not in some things, but in everything; not for some students, but for every student. This vision is in full effect as staff continuously work to ensure that ALL students have an opportunity to continue to learn during this unprecedented time.

In March, when online resources were made available to students within the district, our students with more significant disabilities needed something different to meet their needs, which evolved into creating learning tubs and delivering them to parents on the same day as the resources went live online for other students.

In April, when school closures continued and voluntary learning became our option for K-8, special education teams continued to brainstorm ways that we could continue to accommodate, modify and support continuous learning at home while simultaneously continuing conversations for transitioning students (pre-kindergarten to kindergarten and grade 6 to 7), annual IEP meetings and ESY (extended school year) conversations.

Our Level I teachers have spent countless hours partnering with general education to ensure that online lessons are accessed in ways that meet their individual needs for accommodations. Special education teachers set up text reader, co-writer options so that core materials were accessible. Additionally, special education teachers are partnering to co-create and collaborate for online lessons. Teacher Tiffany Pedersen is also co-teaching lessons with some general education and an educational aide to continue to show continuity and the importance of the work still left to do this school year. They looked to find ways to meet students where they are at to support use of technology and evolve with students to develop new exciting ways of bringing learning to life.

Our Level II teachers have also worked tirelessly to provide appropriate modifications to core content that allows students to be a part of the class but work on activities that meet their individualized needs. This has been no easy feat but one our special education teachers felt passionate about to ensure access. Teacher Kelly Pennekamp has created an individualized schedule of activities to be completed on a more frequent schedule to build up to the final project due two weeks out which has helped to promote routine learning at home. Teacher Melissa Schieffer has sought out ways to find manipulatives, materials and extensions to Google platforms that support access of core content online yet in a familiar hands-on way. Synchronous learning has taken place weekly to help support the maintenance of IEP goals.

Our Level III teachers continuously share ideas for creating alternate activities that meet individual needs tied to IEP goals. Within our Level III program, some of our students are receiving new learning boxes to continue learning at home that provide those hands-on experiences, some are receiving packets of learning activities using cut/paste to support fine motor development and some are using the online program called Boom Learning. Our students and families who are using Boom Learning report that students are enjoying the interactive cards that are tied directly to IEP goal areas. Here is an example of a Boom Learning report: Boom Learning report.

Another important part of our system includes our educational aides. These incredible people have continued to stay connected by joining Google hangouts, making videos for our students to show that they are thinking of them, sharing favorite books and piquing interest in preferred topics. One of our educational aides added signing color words which helped to promote language for one of our students. Another educational aide has created Boom card decks specific to learning names for our students. Others have supported in any way that has been asked of them which helps to ensure that our students feel that they matter. We can’t begin to express how fortunate we are to have the support of these amazing individuals who are a vital part of our Pleasant Valley community.

Most important, our special education staff communicate with our students and parents weekly to check in, offer support and continue to bridge the gap in learning at home. Our special education team members are dedicated to our students, our teams and our jobs so much that here at Riverdale Heights we refer to ourselves as #dreamteam.

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on January 25, 2021 at 8:21am.