There are times when dire circumstances lead to the best ingenuity and creativity. After all, isn’t necessity the mother of invention? This fall, Joey’s Foundation is introducing a new inclusive learning opportunity to support Joey and children like him in maintaining their use of AAC despite virtual instruction.
By the time this post is published, Joey will have had his first week of on-line first grade learning. And, just like all parents and advocates of rising first graders, we spent the summer wondering exactly how this virtual school is going to go. There will be aspects of virtual school that will work even better for Joey than when schools are open in person… and then there will be aspects of virtual first grade that are difficult to juggle. (As a former first grade teacher I bow down to all of you virtual first grader teachers out there preparing to keep this energetic, talkative and excitable age group engaged on a screen all day.)
While this virtual learning environment will be a challenge for many students, it will be a particular challenge for kids who use AAC devices to communicate. This will be especially true for those students like Joey who use the eye-gaze technology AAC. Accessing learning on the computer will be difficult (but doable), but we also cannot forget that social experiences and being in school with grade level peers are so important to Joey, who is motivated by watching peers participate in school.
Since last spring Joey’s Foundation has been examining the problem COVID has created for our most vulnerable students and decided that this was the time to act on an idea they have had for awhile – to create a unique, inclusive class setting for students who use AAC.
After thoughtful planning, research, and many problem-solving meetings, the Foundation is introducing a two hour, three-day a week after-school pod that will bring together both typically developing students as well as students using AAC. I am honored and excited to be a part of this.
I am passionate about inclusion and often work with school programs to develop or increase their inclusive settings. Now, we have the opportunity to build an inclusive after-school program that will enhance academic, social, and problem-solving skills of all students involved. Through using problem-based learning philosophies, as well as small group, direct-instruction with me and a speech language pathologist who specializes in AAC, we are hoping to give each child what they need.
Perhaps more importantly during this time, our small group numbers allow us to be safety conscious and follow strict COVID guidelines to keep everyone safe, healthy, and ready to learn.
This is certainly going to be a learning adventure for all of us, so stay with us as I chronicle what we learn from the group from the perspective of teaching, learning, and supporting inclusive practices.