Service Learning at the Virginia Children’s Book Festival

This year was the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival! On October 19, 2018, Longwood Speech, Hearing, and Learning Services (SHLS) hosted students from neighboring counties to participate in this event. The students started the day by engaging with each other and Longwood undergraduate and graduate students during activities such as cornhole, origami, and reading corners.

After some fun, the student attended a session with Tim Tingle to discuss his book How I Became a Ghost. Tim Tingle provided a signed copy of his book for each student.





The students then traveled to the Longwood Center for Visual Arts to contribute to a mural. They returned to SHLS to enjoy lunch and participate in the Literacy Fair hosted by Communication Sciences and Disorders undergraduate students. At the end of the day, students had the opportunity to sing and create their own songs with Paul Reister. The Virginia Children’s Book Festival utilized literacy to help students explore their potential and creativity.



OSERS new Framework

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Assistant Secretary Johnny Collett has released a framework that communicates the way OSERS will focus its work to advance the Secretary of Education’s priorities and continue to make progress toward achieving its mission to improve early childhood, educational, and employment outcomes and raise expectations for all people with disabilities, their families, their communities, and the nation.

“Rethink” is the focus of this framework – and it makes me think about the focus of our grant – developing scholars to be change agents and to build the capacity of others. I think throughout this program we need to consider how each of  us can address, question, confront, change, and challenge.

Here is a link to the osers-framework-9-20-2018

Here is a link to Johnny Collett’s blog that describes this a bit more – Johnny Collett’s blog on Rethinking Special Education

“Rethinking Special Education” – Reflections from the OSEP Conference

Patty and I, with our colleague Lissa Power-deFur from Longwood University, just returned from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Project Directors’ conference. We attended this conference as part of our Interdisciplinary Training for Inclusive Practice (ITIP) grant, which is supported by OSEP to prepare occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech language pathology students at VCU and Longwood to collaborate with school staff to increase participation among students with disabilities. This conference allowed us to network and learn from and with other special education grantees, policy makers, and leaders from the U.S. Department of Education to work to improve services for students receiving special education.

An overall theme of the conference was change – changing how we prepare special educators and related service providers, changing how we provide supports and use resources, changing how we provide special education, and changing how we provide services to students. Johnny Collett, the assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education, challenged us to “rethink special education.” He cautioned that systems change is hard, really hard, but “it is up to us.” He shared his vision to raise the expectations and improve outcomes for children and youth in our communities and the nation.

How do we make this change? The following ideas, thoughts, and words of wisdom resonated with us during the conference.

  1. “Helping students complete an assignment is not intervention.” Lee Ann Jung from San Diego State University challenged us to be ‘design architects’ of intervention. We need to design effective implementation for students but also design supports for educators. She continued, “Our graduates have to be able to lead conversations, lead teams, and press for change.”
  2. Ruth Ryder, the acting director of OSEP, cautioned us about the impact of focusing on a child’s deficits. “Our default is identifying everything a child can’t do. While we do this without ill intent, we have to rethink this.” This idea was extended by Marshall Peter, retired director of the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), who shared this study outcome – “interventions acquire power when family/youth voice is honored and reflected and the focus is directed toward strengths.” This is the heart of client centered and student centered practice and should always be our default. We need to ask children what they want. What do they do well?
  3. “These are real kids, they have real faces, they have real names, they have real families, and they have real dreams. Special education is about them. We can’t fail them just because the adults in the system can’t figure it out.” This call to action came from Johnny – he really called us out and put it on us that we need to do better, we must do better.
  4. Johnny continued, “Tinkering around the edges is not enough. We need to work deeply and persistently.” We do this by engaging in conversation, building relationships, and establishing ‘thought partnerships’ to “push our thinking forward.” Interprofessional collaboration is key to this.
  5. We need to always ask “what does that child need? Then what does everybody supporting that child need? What are their capacity needs…and their changing capacity needs?” This truly resonated with us as capacity building is at the heart of our ITIP grant, where we are preparing our OT, PT, and SLP scholars to build the capacity of the teachers they are working with in order to better support student needs.
  6. “High expectations are non-negotiable but individually realized” – Johnny shared success stories of children with disabilities attending college and the increasing number of non-degree programs available to children with significant disabilities. We must always presume competence in children and youth.
  7. “Inclusion without supports is simply relocation.” Larry Wexler, Director of the Research to Practice division of OSEP, stressed the importance of inclusion and the meaning of inclusion. As related service providers, we should always be thinking about how we can support the inclusion of children in schools and their community.

We left the conference energized about the future of special education and our ITIP scholars who will be the next generation of change agents through our ITIP grant to meet the call from Johnny to have “the courage and vision to make the changes to do what is best for children.”