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Archived News: What's New
January 2014

What it is REALLY like to partner with VCU-ACE!

By Deborah Hammer
Autism Specialist, Arlington Public Schools

Almost three years ago, Arlington Public Schools became one of the first school systems chosen to partner with VCU-ACE. At the time, I was thrilled that our application had been accepted, but didn’t really know exactly what to expect. I had to wait until we gathered together for a week in April in a Richmond hotel basement to get the full story.

That week was a gift. With five of my colleagues, we met our “prize” from VCU-ACE, staff member Steven Celmer. Steven and the other VCU-ACE faculty helped us craft a meaningful and comprehensive plan for improving the services that our school system provides to our students, families, and staff members. VCU-ACE staff kept us motivated and on task, but our entire group benefitted from having the time away from other distractions to really concentrate on identifying our areas of need and developing an overarching mission statement and achievable goals.

Since returning from Richmond in 2011, we have met at least monthly as a larger VCU-ACE committee, comprised of APS staff from across disciplines, parents, and of course, Steven. Some members have changed over the years and our goals have been fine-tuned, but we have continued to have the constant support and advice from our resident VCU-ACE staff. VCU-ACE provided the technical support that enabled us to implement our goals and we were able to accomplish the following:

• Create advice cards for how schools can create a more welcoming atmosphere in IEP and other meetings.

• Create a checklist for administrators to know what to look for when observing a classroom serving students with autism.

• Develop The Family Resource Binder: a book for families that explains special education, offers a variety of resources, and provides an organizational system for parents so that they can easily refer to the IEP, eligibility, and medical records and make it easier to collaborate with new professionals.

• Develop and implement The Social Skills Inventory (SSI): a method for teachers and therapists to assess their students in their current performance of social skills in a variety of domains. We are also able to use the data to show global strengths and deficits in a particular school or program. In addition, we have tied a number of our curricula in our lending library to the SSI so that staff members have an easy way to locate materials that can assist them with teaching a particular skill.

• Implement our Coaching model: The other autism specialists and I have learned a strategy for making the most out of the limited time we have each month to work 1:1 with teachers in our autism-specific programs.

There are also a number of intangible rewards that we have gained from participating in the VCU-ACE cohort. These include:

• Meeting and working with the teams from the other school districts, and learning that we all face similar challenges!

• Fostering a better relationship with the parents with whom we work, both on the committee and through the initiatives that we have implemented.

• Gaining more confidence in knowing that we are on the right track in providing our best to the community in regard to our students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I highly encourage other school systems to apply for this opportunity. I know that the application process can seem daunting, but I promise you that it is worth it. We are extremely grateful to VCU-ACE and Steven Celmer for working with us, and we would apply again if we were allowed! - Deborah Hammer, Autism Specialist, Arlington Public Schools

Please Note: Applications for Technical Assistance from VCU-ACE in Cohort 2 (2014-2017) are due by 5pm on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. The full application can be downloaded on the VCU-ACE website.


Check Out the VCU-ACE Winter Online Course Schedule!!

VCU-ACE online courses offer high-quality, intensive training on aspects related to Autism Spectrum Disorder. When taking a course, participants complete a variety of course activities, which may include viewing narrated lectures, completing readings, and carrying out other learning activities designed to help apply course content.

Courses are for any educator who supports students with ASD. This includes general education teachers, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service personnel. However, others will also benefit from participation in the courses. Individuals who may be interested include administrators, family members, and other service providers.

Visit the VCU-ACE website to view all future course offerings! Register early as there are limited spaces in each course and courses fill-up quickly.

VCU-ACE Winter 2014 Course Schedule:

Foundations of ASD
February 10-March 10, 2014
April 7-May 4, 2014

Strategies for Supporting Positive Behaviors for Students with ASD
January 13-February 17, 2014
April 21-May 26, 2014

Evidence-based Practices to Teach Students with ASD
March 10-April 14, 2014

Don't forget our self-paced online courses. You can register for these courses anytime and complete them at your own pace. They include:

Improving Goal Mastery through Data-based Decision-making
Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorder
My Child was Just Identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: Now What Do I Do?


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