Fifteen Hours at UCP: Fifteen Hours at UCP Tani Washak email@example.com November 23, 2011 EEX 4070 UCP of Central Florida: UCP of Central Florida United Cerebral Palsy: East Orange/Bailes campus Tuition-free public charter school Started in 1955 by a group of parents, the program provided an early intervention classroom and therapy services for children with cerebral palsy. UCP’s Mission: “For more than 55 years, UCP has been the experts for children with special needs. By providing the best support, education and therapy, we offer hope to everyone touched by a disability. Our goal is to be a resource for families and our community by providing opportunities for each child to learn, grow and excel.” Programs Offered: Infant to high school Physical, speech and occupational therapy College transition program UCP of Central Florida: UCP of Central Florida Annual Revenue: 501 (c) (3) non-profit agency Privately and publicly funded All funds raised stay in the local tri-county community (Orange, Seminole and Osceola) Spends 87¢ of every $1 to directly benefit programs and services General Demographics: More than 2,400 children, teenagers and young adults across 6 campuses Maximum of 350 at the East Orange/Bailes campus Serving c hildren with a variety of disabilities and developmental delays, including Down syndrome, autism, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, speech and hearing delays, and also students without disabilities Serving children birth to age 21 Engagement Activities: Engagement Activities Teachers at UCP Bailes are always in need of extra helping hands in their classrooms. Because their students have special learning needs, individualized attention is an important part of their classroom experience. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do with a shortage of help! As a general classroom assistant, I was at the disposal of my coordinating teacher, Mrs. Lawson. I was there to help her with anything and everything: one-on-one tutoring group math and writing instruction painting a “sarcophagus” with a group of students for an Egyptian unit preparing materials for science experiments creating a bulletin display in the hallway general classroom help My 15 hours of engagement were fulfilled on a weekly basis. I came into Mrs. Lawson’s classroom every Friday for 3 hours at a time [from 9 am to 12 pm]. I was in her classroom on September 30 th , October 7 th and 21 st , and November 4 th and 11 th . Participant Demographics: Participant Demographics I served both 2 nd and 3 rd graders at UCP. Their ages ranged from 8 to 10 years old. Classes rotate on Fridays. While I was there from 9 am to 12 pm, Mrs. Lawson taught 3 groups of 2 nd or 3 rd grade students. There was a total of about 30 students in all 3 groups. None of Mrs. Lawson’s students were English language learners, though there were a variety of ethnic backgrounds in her classroom. Approximately 70% of UCP’s students come from families that make less than $30,000 a year. The students I served are considered persons with disabilities according to the I.D.E.A., which defines a “child with a disability” as a child with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance..., orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities. These children must also need special education and related services in order to learn. The students I served had disabilities ranging from autism, speech impairments, emotional disturbances, and mental retardation, and required an environment such as UCP in order to learn. Service in Action: Service in Action Slide 7: Service in Action Perceptions of Differences: Perceptions of Differences Initially, I was apprehensive about this service-learning assignment and about disabilities in general. I had never worked with students with disabilities, so I was nervous about doing something incorrectly or being unable to communicate well with the students who had trouble speaking. While I wasn’t “scared” of students with disabilities, I was uncomfortable because I was so unfamiliar with them. Now, I feel much more comfortable around people with disabilities. I have a greater sense of compassion for them because I have seen first-hand how difficult and challenging it can be to live with disabilities. This experience has also made me think about the families of children with disabilities, and how much of an impact it can have on life in the home. I feel better prepared to teach students with disabilities who have been mainstreamed into my future classroom, and while I still have a lot of learning to do, I don’t think I’ll feel as alone or lost. Those times when I was asked to work with students one-on-one or in small groups had the most impact on me, because this will be an everyday occurrence in my future classroom. These sessions made me realize how one-on-one tutoring is difficult for some students, be it because of limited attention spans, learning abilities or disabilities, and classroom distractions. Connections to My Course (EEX 4070): Connections to My Course (EEX 4070) I understand these 3 course topics better: Differentiating instruction and assessment. Mrs. Lawson’s lessons were tailored to fit each of her 3 groups of students. For example, during a science unit on energy, she differentiated both her teaching style and her methods of assessment for her students. Her first group, which consists of many students who are physically unable to write on their own, needed more one-on-one attention. Her third group, which consists of students who are more advanced, took notes throughout the lesson. Lesson Planning Pyramid. According to Teaching Students Who Are Exceptional, Diverse, & at Risk , a planning pyramid allows teachers to map out the material that specific groups of students will learn (p. 218). Mrs. Lawson’s differentiation of instruction demonstrated her use of a lesson planning pyramid. Characteristics of students with emotional disturbances. According to Teaching Students Who Are Exceptional, Diverse, & at Risk , an emotional disturbance can be defined as inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances (p. 123). One of Mrs. Lawson’s students had a severe emotional disturbance that frequently disrupted the class and forced teachers to remove her from the classroom. Connections to My Course (EEX 4070): Connections to My Course (EEX 4070) I better understand course content due to my experience because I was given a hands-on learning experience. It is one thing to read a textbook, complete learning modules, or listen to lectures about classroom happenings; it is an entirely different learning experience when one is given the opportunity to be actively engaged in a classroom. These experiences will certainly inform both my future studies and my future career as a classroom teacher. My experience is a memory that I can keep, while the material I’ve read in a textbook is something that tends to fade over time. Civic Engagement: Civic Engagement My perspective on civic engagement and volunteerism has always been positive, because I believe it is important to be involved in one’s community and to serve those in need. This service-learning experience has only solidified that belief. Civic engagement is a way for people to get involved in the community and reach out to all citizens. It creates a stronger connection to the community, benefiting both the volunteer and the individuals being served. There are so many people in the community that need someone to stand up for them and provide a helping hand. I believe that service-learning is one of the most effective means of gaining knowledge and experience. It is a kind of learning that won’t fade over time, because it was experienced first-hand. It requires active participation, rather than inactive studying, cramming, or reading. This experience has solidified my beliefs about being engaged in the community, and I would encourage both teachers and students to take part in service-learning in the future because of its effectiveness. Final Thoughts & Reflections: Final Thoughts & Reflections The keys to greater understanding and empathy for persons with disabilities are first-hand-experience and research. Working with students with disabilities face-to-face forced me to be comfortable, and comfort gradually came on its own once I had spent more time with my students. Being knowledgeable about a variety of disabilities by means of research also fosters greater understanding. Emphasizing the importance of empathy to others may encourage others to become involved. Teachers play a huge role in educating students, parents, and communities about more than academic topics. Teachers must nurture relationships with their students and their parents in order to reach out to them, and this goes beyond simply having parent-teacher conferences about grades. Teachers need to learn about their students and their families in order to work toward the greater good of society.