COVID Can't Curb Caring

Special Ed Staff Continue to Customize Learning
Posted on 08/31/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Special Ed Staff Continue to Customize LearningResponding to the needs of special education students does not stop even during a pandemic. More than 600 students are served by the Weakley County Schools special education staff. Last spring during closure and, as some families chose to start the academic year at home, these students continue to receive the individualized attention that helps their learning progress.

The state of Tennessee has multiple categories of services that schools must provide to ensure free appropriate public education including autism, deaf, blindness, developmental delay, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, speech/language impairment and intellectually gifted.

Weakley County Schools Special Education services are covered by teachers, speech/language therapists, educational assistants, a school psychologist, a school social worker, bus drivers, and bus monitors, explained Deborah Perkins, the director. Additional services in speech/language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, applied behavior analysis, and school psychology are also contracted on an as-needed basis.

As for responding to needs during the COVID-19 crisis, “For the most part we anticipate that student services will be delivered in the school setting,” said Perkins. “Aside from the safety precautions staff that will be taking, those services will look pretty much like they have always looked.”

To make that happen, throughout the summer and before classes resumed, staff met with parents to review Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and determine this year’s services for students with disabilities. In addition, at those meetings, these teams developed distance learning plans by discussing how best to render services during Monitored Distance Education (MDE) or, if needed due to closure, county-wide remote learning.

As of this writing, 94 children and youth in the county’s special education program have opted for the MDE personal learning platform that allows students to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis. Of those students, 21 are in Comprehensive Development Classes (CDC). CDC allows for a smaller, structured learning environment for special needs students’ academics, behavior remediation, transition, and living skills. And for those 21 learners, Kayla Dyer is their teacher.

Dyer is in her sixth year of teaching, her fourth at Sharon School. When the numbers of families opting for the MDE option grew (many of whom were concerned about the child’s immunocompromised health), administrators shifted Dyer’s anticipated in-class students to other teachers. She and her team of educational assistants – Keith Douglas and Sandra Ferrell (both of whom she says she can’t praise enough) – now focus solely on preparing optimum learning experiences for students in the home environment.

That means Dyer’s classroom has been transformed into a production facility. Currently, the learning is taking place using notebooks of materials specially prepared for each child. Selected print activities are issued with the notebook each week, completed and traded in for a new notebook and new activities the next. To ensure safety, all printed pages are laminated and all surfaces on blocks and clocks used in math manipulatives are disinfected upon receipt and made ready for the next child.

Such attention to safety precautions is also evident in the approach to students who are receiving occupational or physical therapy. Those able to come to the school meet the specialist in a room near a door that the general population does not use. The specialist sanitizes the room between students. They are able to move directly to the services with minimum risk of exposure. Phone calls and Zoom meetings offer the services when the child cannot come to the school.

For instance, over a Zoom meeting, a physical therapist might ask a child to bend and pick up an object, balance on one foot, walk heel to toe, etc. and observe the actions online.

“The therapy has not changed. Everything is made to look like they are in the classroom, except that they are doing it at home,” she added. “We’ve done it that way so that if they were to choose to come back after Christmas they could right back into learning.”

Dyer provided apps, tailored for home, for her students’ enrichment during last spring’s closure. For now, notebooks allow for monitoring progress toward goals. Soon, Dyer hopes to add use of computers or other devices for learning.

After weeks of preparing all the materials; collecting items for supply boxes of crayons, pencils, glue and more; and training parents on what the CDC version of MDE would look like, Dyer’s team is hitting their stride as the second week of classes concluded. Already, Dyer makes contact with students’ parents everyday through the Remind app to check attendance. Soon, she hopes to meet via Zoom with small groups to work on reading or math.

“I miss my kids. I wish we could see them in person, but we are making it work,” said Dyer who admits to missing the end-of-the-day dance parties where she and her students would celebrate having a good day and “just dance it out.”

“I plan to do it again online when we can,” she said.

Photos:
Kayla Dyer

Special education teacher Kayla Dyer misses the in-class interactions with her students at Sharon School. For now, she is working with 21 students enrolled in the Monitored Distance Education program that has been adapted for students with special needs.

Keith Douglas
Keith Douglas not only provides educational assistance to Kayla Dyer at Sharon School, he has recently been spotted in a Superman costume promoting safety and health and assists with the sanitizing of buses during COVID-19 precautions.

Sandra Ferrell

Sandra Ferrell serves the school system in two critical areas – as an education assistant in Kayla Dyer’s classroom and as a school bus driver.

Special Ed

We could call this our Roll Call of Wonder, our Super Superheroes, our Faithful Friends, but officially these are the 83 staff members who play a part in Weakley County Schools Special Education program. Help these teachers, administrators, EAs, bus drivers, bus monitors, social workers, therapists and specialists. Remember them in these complex times:

Sakara Milam, Amy Boaz, Jo Stokes, Patrick Nesbitt, Amanda Burnett, Timi Woodward, Whitney Wilson, Drew Gibson, Tina Grooms, Susan Williams, Lisa Chambliss, Kimberly Moon, Becky Stout, Tara Holmes, Catherine Arrendondo, Dawn Collier, Kailey Bond, Glenda Chapel, Janice Clark, Keith Douglas, Sandra Ferrell, Me’Kena Garner, Regina Harrison, Michelle Morgan, Cindy Sawyers, Christy Smith, Tammy Trull, Rose Wade, Alison Williams, DeAnn Wolski, Bess Hazlewood, Kim Pierce, Shannon Roberts, Dawn Thompson, JoAnn Campbell, Beverly Damesworth, Shayna Gammons, Gloria Palmer, Laurenda Perry, Lova Jean Perry, David Campbell, Tony Damesworth, Richard Doebler, Rick Everett, Richard Hodges, Donna Morgan, Marilyn Wade, Kim Powell, Pat Nesbitt, William Gamble, Brittany Kendall, Gena Harris, Debbie Moran, Brenda Bayer, Teresa Brawner, Darlene Connell, Becky Scott, Rebecca Covington, Tara Hughes, Bryan Sanders, Susie Hazlewood, Shelley Featherston, Kristen Westphal, Mercy Ford, Arlene Hazlewood, Sarah Hester, Lisa Kerney, Katie Brewer, Steve Douglas, Kayla Dyer, Betty Eddings, Michaela Fredericks, Morgan Klinzing, Jennifer Lamb, Karen Todd, Caitlin Tucker, Debbie Carden, Anna Lowrance, Carol Owen, Lauren Mitchell, Jeanie Travis, Becky Childress, Tessica Dunlap, Eva Essary, Kellie Sims, Deborah Perkins