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July 9, 2012

CoLA 2012 Summer Institute a Huge Success!

VCU-ACE and the VDOE TTAC's hosted a Communities of Learning in Autism (CoLA) Institute in Richmond on June 20-22, 2012.  Over 120 autism specialists and school division autism leaders participated in this educational and networking event.  On Wednesday afternoon, attendees welcomed Dr. Tony Gentry as the keynote speaker.  Dr. Gentry updated the audience on his research in using handheld computers as cognitive and communication aides for individuals with autism.  Following the keynote, participants were invited to visit facilitated technology stations on six different topics, including communication, data collection, transition to work, ABA and learning, and social skills.  Dr. Gentry hosted a station on “Platforms and Choices” giving attendees the opportunity to ask questions about the advantages and disadvantages of various devices and platforms.  The first day culminated with an evening Poster Session and Networking Reception, which included 27 poster presentations and opportunities to learn about exciting things happening in schools all across VA.  There was a buzz in the air as guests and poster presenters traveled the room sharing ideas and visions.  As one attendee summed up the evening, “the poster session was a great way to showcase what is going on around the state.”

On Thursday, Day 2 of the Institute, these autism specialists were given the chance to attend three sessions of breakouts.  The breakouts were organized in three tracks -- Communication and Social Skills, Systems Change, and Transition.  A discussion session was held at the end of the day for all three tracks, giving attendees the opportunity to share about their division work in these topics and to brainstorm with colleagues on ways to implement what they had learned during the day.  When asked what registrants found most relevant at the Institute, comments included: “being able to share info and get ideas from others was invaluable”; “the breakout sessions, (these) systems wide presentations were informative and practical"; and “networking opportunities, sharing of tools and resources, and having the tracks was a great way to organize sessions.”

The conference concluded Friday with Regional CoLA Meetings and a Report-Out Session on plans for the upcoming year.  Participants left the Summer Institute with new ideas for social skills, communication, coaching, transition between schools, and much more!  For more information on the CoLA Summer Institute or the Regional Communities of Learning in Autism, please contact Becky Boswell, VCU-ACE Outreach Coordinator, at 

VCU-ACE Offering Live Paraprofessional Trainings!

Recognizing that the preferred learning styles of individuals may vary, VCU-ACE will occasionally
hold live trainings to meet the needs of those participants who prefer a face-to-face learning experience.  The information presented in these professional development opportunities will correspond with the high-quality intensive training provided in the VCU-ACE online courses. 

VCU-ACE is currently offering a live training for Paraprofessionals on August 14-16, 2012 in Richmond.   This professional development opportunity is designed to give participants information and opportunities to practice skills relevant to working with students with ASD.  The live training includes a variety of interactive activities that will allow participants to:
•    Enhance their knowledge related to the characteristics and learning needs of students with ASD, and
•    Build skills related to implementing teacher directed instruction and behavioral support strategies.

The competencies covered in this live training are the same as in the online course that VCU-ACE now offers.  Participants who successfully complete the training will receive a Certificate of Completion.  For more information, and to register, please visit the Live Training page of the VCU-ACE website.  Please note, space is limited so be sure to register soon if interested! 

Congratulations to the Bon Secours St. Mary’s Project SEARCH Class of 2012!!

Bon Secours St. Mary’s Project SEARCH celebrated the completion of its third year of students on June 5, 2012.  Seven Henrico County Public School students participated in the Virginia Commonwealth University - Rehabilitation Research and Training Center project funded through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. This project assists students with autism spectrum disorders to learn job skills in a business setting, in this case St. Mary’s Hospital.  Students spend their entire last year of school at the hospital rotating through three unpaid internships in various departments that are selected based on their skills, interests, and abilities. In June, at the celebration ceremony, Toni R. Ardabell (St. Mary’s CEO) choked back tears as she announced that all seven students had been hired to work for the hospital.  VCU-ACE congratulates all those involved in the success of the Bon Secours St. Mary’s Project SEARCH Class of 2012!!

VCU-ACE Participates in VAESP Annual Conference!

Lancaster County, in collaboration with VCU-ACE, was honored to be selected to present at the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP) Annual Conference in June.  Holly Wargo, Principal at Lancaster Primary School, and Noel Woolard, VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Associate, presented on their experiences in implementing an after school social skills club for students with autism.  The emphasis of this presentation focused on using evidence based practices to align with pre-assessment skill data.  Participants were given resources that can be used in implementing social skills instruction in small groups and/or embedding instruction into the school day.  Those that attended were enthusiastic about the presentation and several mentioned that the information and resources provided would be extremely helpful as they work to implement social skills programs in their own schools.

VCU-ACE was also pleased to be an exhibitor at the VAESP Conference this year.  Becky Boswell, VCU-ACE Outreach Coordinator, shared information with the over 300 registrants about the many resources and training opportunities that VCU-ACE provides across Virginia, including the new online training for paraprofessionals working with students with autism.  Thanks to all the participants and other exhibitors at the VAESP Annual Conference for the warm welcome!  

Preschool Teachers in the Northern Neck Welcome VB MAPP Training!

Preschool teachers working in counties within the Northern Neck of Virginia (Lancaster County, Richmond County, Northumberland County, and the Town of Colonial Beach) were excited to learn about the VB MAPP (Verbal Behavior Milestones and Placement Program) from VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Associate, Steven Celmer on June 4, 2012.  Teachers learned how this assessment can assist them in creating goals that will help a student function to the best of their ability in the general education setting.  Noel Woolard, the VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Associate who works weekly with several teachers within the Northern Neck Regional Program, stated,  “Teachers are motivated to learn strategies that will help them meet the needs of the students in their classrooms. This training occurred at a time when teachers are gearing up for the 2012-2013 school year and can use the summer to plan for upcoming yearly instruction.  It was exciting to see teachers so ready to start using this assessment!”