Family Engagement & Preparing for School Breaks: School Vacation Projects to Extend Learning

By Tranika Jefferson

When school is out, many students lose knowledge and skills, particularly in mathematics and reading, contributing to the achievement gap (McCombs et al., 2011). Unfortunately, low-income students are at a higher risk of school vacation learning loss than their peers (McCombs et al., 2011). It is vital that students continue learning throughout the entire year. Especially, students with disabilities given that they may have difficulty transitioning from the regular school year to vacation.

There are lots of ways to keep students learning! The perfect time for students to discover that learning is fun and not always based on instruction from a teacher is when students are outside of the classroom.

One way to help students learn during school vacation is to plan a school vacation project! Any project that you plan, may help a student generalize knowledge and skills learned during the school year in a variety of different situations and settings. These projects create learning opportunities for students to maintain knowledge and skills all vacation long.

4 examples of school vacation learning projects:

Write in a journal or notebook. Students can write about family adventures, short stories, or build on a full story from start to finish throughout the break.

Plan what books you child will read. This can be initiated at the beginning of the break by selecting a variety of preferred books that will be read throughout the vacation.

Have an old-fashioned lemonade stand! Let’s not forget about the multiple skills it takes in making and running a lemonade stand. The student will be required to create and write a poster, read, measure and follow a recipe to make lemonade, count money, and add and subtract to issue the correct amount of change.

Most importantly, keep it fun and be creative! For example, the student can make different patterns and shapes from common items around the house (straws, sticks, beads, etc.) and label or match them to identical objects.

School vacation projects can be done anytime and anywhere, therefore parents involvement in their child’s out of school learning is crucial to the child’s success. It is important to remember that parents are their child’s #1 educator.

Most schools, especially schools attended by low-income children are set up to teach at the mass scale, not individually. In addition, unless the child is attending summer school, schools play a limited role in summer learning of students. “Children are in their families and neighborhoods year-round, but they are in school episodically” (Alexander, Entwisle & Olson, 2007). Ultimately, parents are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that their children are learning all the time. Therefore, parents need to provide opportunity and reinforcement of their child’s appropriate behavior, whether in school or out of school.

Alexander, K., Entwisle, D., & Olson, L. (2007). Summer learning and its implications: Insights from the Beginning School Study. New Directions For Youth Development, 2007(114), 11-32.

McCombs, J., Schwartz, H., Bodilly, S., Mcinnis, B., Lichter, D., Cross, A., & Augustine, C. (2011). Making summer count. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator of the Month: Ms. Charline Rivera

Spotlight Educator of the Month: Ms. Charline Rivera, Pre-Kindergarten PreSchool Disabled (PSD) Autism Educator
McKinley School in the Newark Public School District (New Jersey)

Ms. Rivera in her classroom at McKinley School, NJ!

Charline Rivera is a Pre-Kindergarten PreSchool Disabled (PSD) Autism Educator at McKinley School in Newark, NJ. McKinley School is a part of Newark Public School District and its special education program is one of the largest in the district. Ms. Rivera uses Rethink Ed in her classroom and is very excited to see that her students have progressed using the platform over the past year and a half.

At McKinley School, Rethink Ed is a vital part of keeping track of several types of data. From pre-academic and academic data to behavioral supports, Rethink provides a variety of real time reports and supports, to assist educators in tailoring instructions for the individual child.  Ms. Rivera works with Autism educators, therapists, resource teachers, and paraprofessionals to use Rethink to its fullest potential. One of her favorite aspects of the platform is the Rethink Ed app which allows her to track data anywhere. Whether it’s during an extra-curricular activity, a school trip, on the playground, and/or in the classroom setting, data is collected and tracked throughout the academic school day. As a result, educators, case managers, and administrators can collect, view, and assess real time data. This data is then used to tailor lessons and tasks that meets the needs of the students and helps them achieve and master goals. By using this program, educators can collaborate and provide the same continuous support and targeted instruction to the individual student, regardless of whether the student is in a special activity class, therapy, or in a different classroom.

Ms. Rivera and her team of educators!

Rethink is a proven, essential tool for Ms. Rivera and her team. She credits their success to the online behavioral supports and training videos. These professional development and training series assist her team and truly help her students succeed. Rethink, “creates a platform area where everything is accessible and available not only for the student to succeed in their goal, but for the educator to carry out the lesson successfully and purposefully.” Over the past year, Ms. Rivera has seen a visible and analytical improvement in one of her students. Using Rethink, she was able to able to collect ABC data and frequencies. By using the data and graphs, they were able to identify the pattern and the antecedent to many of the student’s situations. The platform, specifically the behavioral supports provided to assist the student, helped them to create a behavioral plan that fit his needs. Ms. Rivera is proud to say that “a year later, with the help of Rethink data and supports, the student has decreased self-injurious behaviors. Since the decrease in these challenging behaviors, he has been awarded Student of the Month, Perfect Attendance, and has achieved and surpassed many of his pre-academic goals to a level higher his current grade level.” With the Rethink program, Ms. Rivera and her team can assist the students to overcome many challenging behaviors.

Ms. Rivera is excited to continue to use the Rethink Ed platform and watch her students’ continued success!

5 Holiday Fun Activities for the Whole Family to Enjoy

By: Maria Wilcox, MA, BCBA

The holiday season is a special time of year filled with celebrations, seasonal activities, social gatherings, and of course a break in the school calendar! However, it can also be overwhelming and stressful for those with disabilities due to the disruption in routine, sensory overwhelm, and unfamiliarity.

Do not let this prohibit your family from participating in activities that are appropriate, special, and memory-making for them. Here are some simple ideas in which the whole family can participate.

1. Enjoy a sensory friendly movie
Many theatre chains offer movie times that are sensory and family friendly. The lights are not dimmed, the volume is lowered, and attendees can get up, move around, talk, or even sing-a-long!

Theatre not your thing? Have a family movie night with popcorn, snacks, and a family favorite film. Some favorites are Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the Polar Express.

2. Visit your local public library
Libraries often host a variety of holiday themed activities for children of all ages. They are quieter environments for children who may be easily overwhelmed. Things like story hour, Lego clubs, daytime movies, puppet shows, or even just going to look at books in the children’s section are great ways to get out of the house and do something fun as a family.

3. Pick and choose what you attend
Invited to a large holiday gathering? Many families opt out of large parties and events because of past experiences or unfamiliarity and unpredictability. Instead, you could invite a small group to your home so that your child has a safe place and familiar environment should she/he become overwhelmed.

4. Decorate cookie, do an easy craft, or play outside
Sometimes being home with family during the holidays is enough. As lives grow increasingly busier, simple activities with those closest to you can be the most special.

Buying cookies and decorating them festively, making a winter themed craft, or building a snowman can be great ways for siblings to interact and keep stress levels low in a familiar environment.

5. Visit your local zoo or a new museum
Zoo’s often have holiday lights and decorations for the season. They are less crowded and very family friendly early in the day. There are often photo opportunities and interactive activities for children of all abilities.

Museums also have great hours for families to visit and have many activities that are engaging and target lots of different ages and abilities. Train museums, local history museums, and living history museums are all great options for families to gather together for structured fun.

The holidays are a special time to spend with loved ones, friends, and family. By keeping expectations realistic, planning simple and fun activities the season can be enjoyable and memorable for the entire family! Happy Holidays!

Misconceptions Revealed! Everything you need to know about the Extended School Year

Extended School Year (ESY) is an extension of special education and related services that are provided to students beyond the normal school year. ESY in the United States is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) federal law.

Here are 4 common misconceptions about ESY:

ESY only occurs during the summer: False!

ESY services are provided when school is not typically in session. That’s often during the summer, but for some students it can also be during other extended breaks, such winter vacation. ESY services can even be an extension of the student’s normal school day, such as a special tutoring program.

Students automatically qualify for ESY if they have an IEP: Not Everywhere!

ESY is not guaranteed for all students who have IEPs. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act lets each state or school district set its own rules for eligibility, and so each IEP team will determine the need for these supports annually. To be eligible for ESY services, the student must have evidenced/documented substantial regression and recoupment issues during the previous IEP year and/or there is evidence of emerging skills which are often referred to as “breakthrough” skills.

ESY focuses on academics: Not Always!

ESY services are not necessarily a continuation of the same instructional program and related services the student receives during the normal school year as prescribed by the IEP. IEP teams have flexibility in determining what ESY services might be needed. For example, ESY services may take the form of teachers and parents working together by providing materials for home use with progress monitored by the teacher, supports needed just in occupational therapy, social skills/social emotional learning supports, or support in multiple areas that may or may not include academics.

ESY’s priority is to teach new skills: Practice, Practice, Practice!

ESY services are designed to support an eligible student to maintain the academic, social/behavioral, communication, or other skills that they have learned as part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 accommodation plan. The priority for ESY programs are generally not to teach new skills but to practice maintaining previously acquired or learned skills. This is a great time to ensure all that learning that occurred throughout the year remains as the student moves into their next grade.