Friday, August 27, 2010

A Rave Review for a New Book

Life After High School: A Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families has been "highly recommended" by Library Journal, “the oldest and most respected publication covering the library field."

The enthusiastic review of this new book from our own Susan Yellin, Esq., Director of Advocacy and Transition Services here at the Yellin Center, and Christina Cacioppo Bertsch, former head of Disability Services at Fordham University, speaks for itself:

Yellin, Susan & Christina Cacioppo Bertsch. Life After High School: A Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families. Jessica Kingsley. Sept. 2010. C.272p. index. ISBN 9781849058285. pap. $19.95. ED

There are myriad accommodations that colleges and, to a lesser extent, work sites are required to make for people with disabilities, yet navigating the process can be daunting. Here, Yellin, attorney and founder of the nonprofit Center for Learning Differences, and Bertsch (former director, disability svcs., Fordham Univ.) provide students with disabilities and their parents an outstanding and highly readable guide to preparing for and transitioning to life after high school. They start by examining the legal landscape and cover defining a disability and creating a paper trail to document the disability and previous accommodations. They move on to college-entrance exams, how to select a college, and the admissions process, and then discuss the transition to full-time work. There is also a chapter devoted to dealing with medical issues without mom. The book ends with a useful list of resources, organized by topic, for further information. VERDICT An excellent resource for students with disabilities and their families; at this price, within reach for most people and libraries. Highly recommended.—Mark Bay, Univ. of the Cumberlands Lib., Williamsburg, KY
Library Journal, "considered to be the 'bible' of the library world," is in its 133rd year of publication and is presently published in both print and online versions. The review of this newly published book will appear in both versions and be available to "over 100,000 library directors, administrators, and staff in public, academic, and special libraries" reached by Library Journal.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cornerstone Literacy

Cornerstone Literacy is an exciting national initiative that works in partnership with school districts to provide "a combination of research-based practices, direct in-school supports and intensive year-round training."  They are currently working in 50 schools, 25 in Muscogee County, Georgia and 25 in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

Originally a program of the New York Institute for Special Education, whose Board of Directors includes Dr. Paul Yellin, Cornerstone is in the process of becoming an independent non-profit under the dynamic direction of its President, Victor Young. Its staff includes former teachers and principals, all of whom are grounded in the Cornerstone Literacy model, which works with six "cueing systems" or "avenues" to access texts. Some members of the Yellin Center team got to meet these dedicated professionals when Dr. Yellin was invited to speak at a Cornerstone Literacy retreat in July of this year.

What has us particularly excited about Cornerstone's important work is that for the next year it will be headquartered right here -- Cornerstone Literacy has become our new neighbor! While the organization finishes the process of "spinning off" from the New York Institute and seeks a permanent home here in Manhattan (it was formerly headquartered in Philadelphia, although its teams do much of their work on-site in the schools it serves), Cornerstone is utilizing temporary space in our building. 

We welcome our new neighbors, with whom we hope to find opportunities to collaborate, and are delighted that they have found a temporary home while they settle down here in New York City! 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Walking to School

Researchers at the State University of Buffalo in New York have released the results of a study confirming what parents have always suspected -- that walking to school is good for kids. James Roemmich, MD, PhD and his research team looked at 40 children in good health who were not presently walking to school on a regular basis. They had half of their subjects walk on a treadmill for just under a mile, carrying a backpack that was about 10% of their body weight. The other subjects sat in a chair. Both groups looked at screens that showed a pleasant view of sites one would see while walking to school.

As reported in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the short term results were clear; cardiac stress was less in those students who walked, as compared to those who sat, measured by blood pressure, perceived stress, and heart and pulse reactivity.

What is less certain is how long the stress reduction will last during the school day and what the long term effects into adulthood will be for students who regularly walk to school. But in the meantime, while researchers follow up on these preliminary results, parents might do well to forgo the car pool where walking to school is practical. And, as with many things, you can always tell your child, "It's for your own good..."

Photo credit:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Experiential Learning

A walk along Boston's Freedom Trail recently reminded us of the importance of learning by experience. This is something that can benefit young people -- and their parents -- in a number of ways. Walking through Independence Hall in Philadelphia on a hot summer's day can help a history student imagine what the Founding Fathers must have felt like when the heat of their debates was matched by the heat of their meeting place.

Have you ever visited a science museum where they helped children extract their own DNA from a cheek swab, using a test tube and chemicals? As the DNA comes together to form a distinctive form within the tube, the concept of this individual building block becomes very real. Looking inside an early space capsule at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. gives a real sense of how the first astronauts must have felt in their tiny home in space.

But it's not just museums and historical sites that allow young people to enjoy experiential learning. Travel to any new place -- or a deeper exploration of a familiar location -- can bring ideas to life. Even a trip to a supermarket, equipped with a list and a budget, can give children experiences in fields ranging from mathematics to nutrition to reading.

Some schools have already opened for the year. Others will open in the next several weeks. But as we leave behind the slower pace of summer, perhaps your family can still find the time for short trips, or more local experiences, that can bring learning to life in very practical ways. And, if you are on the Freedom Trial, do try the pastries at Mike's in Boston's North End!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ramapo: A Special Program

We are often reluctant to write about a program that is very small, or hasn't been around very long. But we are making an exception for a unique program for young people 18 and up who are struggling to take the next step to college or the workplace.

The Staff Assistant Program at Ramapo for Children is only a couple of years old, although Ramapo for Children  was founded in 1922. The mission of the larger organization is  "to serve children with a wide range of emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities in a dynamic and stimulating outdoor environment ... with adventure-based, experiential learning programs that promote positive character values, build social and learning competencies, and enhance self-esteem." During the summer, the camp program has several sessions of one, two, and three week programs. During much of the school year the camp is used by a variety of schools, public and private, for retreats that teach skill building and leadership skills to students of all ability levels.

The Staff Assistant Program operates from March through November on a rolling admissions basis. Young people and their families need to make a minimum 12 week commitment. The Staff Assistants function as assistants to counselors and other employees of Ramapo, all the time being mentored on a one-to-one basis by a skilled professional staff that really "gets it". The Staff Assistants are paid a weekly stipend (which comes out of the fees paid by their families; the only drawback to this program is that it is expensive, with annualized costs similar to attendance at a top college). They learn the nuts and bolts of managing their lives, working on everything that has tripped them up in their past endeavors -- time management, social interactions, budgeting, working skills -- yet they also have the chance to work with youngsters whose needs generally exceed their own. When the summer program is not in session, the Staff Assistants have more time to work on additional skills -- taking a course at the local community college, learning to drive, working at a part-time job in town, or participating in a community based organization, such as community theater. 

This all sounds pretty basic, but for young people who have graduated from high school and haven't been able to succeed in college or in the workplace choices can be very limited. And a place where these young adults can work with extraordinary staff and learn to help themselves by helping others can be a key step to their future success. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tools to Consider

Two software packages that we sometimes recommend to the students we see can be useful tools for organizing writing and other tasks. Although neither is free, they both offer 30 day free trials, so it might be worthwhile checking them out and trying one or both to see if they are worth your time and money.

The first, which has been around for a number of years, is Inspiration, which we have written about in the past. It is recommended for students in grades 6-12, but may have wider appeal. This software also has a version for younger students in grades K though 5, called Kidspiration.The Inspiration software helps students organize their thoughts into outlines and to create linkages between ideas to best structure a writing assignment or project. It switches easily from a diagram view to an outline, and back again. Once a student gets the hang of things (and it is easy enough that even your blogger was able to master it) he or she can brainstorm ideas, linking and moving each idea, concept or topic to another and creating subcategories where needed. Colors, shapes, and linking lines help keep thoughts in groups, and let students get their ideas on paper and then move them around to build the best written product.

Mindjet Mind Manager is a more complex program which can be used to manage tasks and projects in both an individual and business setting. It does not have a version for younger users, and is substantially more expensive than Inspiration, but can offer significant support for project planning, especially when working in teams, and may be of interest to students in college and post-secondary environments.

As the new school year approaches, you might want to check out both of these tools, download a free trial, and see how they work with your learning needs, or those of your child.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Link Roundup

Summer Must-Read for Kids? Any Book (NY Times)
10 Tips for Women Students in Science Fields (U.S. News & World Report)
Getting the Best out of Boys (Teaching Pre-K-8)
A Good Night's Sleep for the New School Year (Science Daily)


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Limits of Services

We continue to get questions from parents about a subject we have addressed before -- what does a school have to do to meet the needs of a student who struggles?

In our May 3, 2010 blog entry we looked at the history of the term FAPE -- free, appropriate, public education -- which is the standard that schools must follow. Let's look a bit further at how FAPE applies in practice and what parents can expect from their schools.

First of all, it is important to remember that only students who receive services under the IDEA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are entitled to FAPE. That means that if your daughter could benefit from supports in reading or writing, but does not meet the level of disability required by either of these laws, there is no legal requirement for her school to address these issues. Parents should also be aware that FAPE extends to students who attend private schools, as well as those who attend public schools, but the level of services to private school students with disabilities may differ, because services for private school students are generally less well funded by the states.

The part of FAPE that causes the most disputes between families and schools is the term "appropriate". What a parent believes to be an appropriate service may be seen by the financially strapped school district as an unnecessary luxury. Mind you, finances should not be entering into the decision process, but they do all the time. Parents always want the best for their child; schools must take into account the needs of all of their students and the more resources they expend on any one student, the fewer are left for everyone else.

Parents can be more effective when speaking to their child's school by keeping the terminology of FAPE in mind. When seeking to have the school include a particular service or program on your son's IEP (Individualized Education Program), don't talk about it being "best" or "ideal". Speak instead about it being "appropriate", and that it would allow your child to "make adequate yearly progress". Remember that there are many services that all children would find helpful but that your school district is not required to provide a perfect education. Keeping this in mind as you work with your child's school may help you get the most you are entitled to under the law.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Weighty Problem

A disturbing new study raises concerns about the impact of type-2 diabetes on learning and cognition. Dr. Antonio Convit, of NYU Langone Medical Center and his colleagues looked at two groups of obese teenagers -- 18 with type 2 diabetes and 18 who, although also obese, did not show any signs of the disease. The researchers found that the diabetic teens had statistically significant lower scores in tests of attention, memory, and planning. Of interest, the two groups of teens were matched in terms of socio-economic status, sex, grade, and ethnicity.

Scientists have long known that some adults with diabetes have cognitive changes, but have not been certain if these are related to their diabetic condition alone or if they are part of the long term consequences of having diabetes, including heart disease that can impair circulation to the brain. Since the teens Convit and his colleagues studied did not have the long term consequences of diabetes, the research team believes that the very existence of type 2 diabetes can impact brain circulation.

The good news is that Convit points out that it is not clear that the brain changes he and his colleagues observed are significant or permanent and he notes that exercise can go a long way to improve the insulin resistance that leads to type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the resilience of younger brains may allow individuals whose brains have been impacted by type 2 diabetes to improve their function over time. If ever there was a reason to get your kids to put down the chips and get off the couch, this may be it!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Back to School Shopping

Even if you haven't looked at a calendar lately, the advertisements in your daily newspaper or a visit to almost any store will make it clear that it is August -- time to think ahead to the start of the new school year. Even here in New York City, where a regular class schedule doesn't begin until the week of September 13th, thoughts of school supplies are unavoidable.

Some students don't have a great deal of flexibility in their purchases; teachers have sent home specific lists and students are expected to show up with the mandated items. But there are some simple products and devices that can help many students who deal with issues such as organization and graphomotor (handwriting) difficulties, and in our experience most teachers will permit -- and often welcome -- the use of these items to help their students better manage the demands of their work.

One product we often recommend, especially for students who struggle with loose leaf notebooks or who can't keep track of handouts, homework, or other papers, is the accordian folder. These generally are made of heavy duty flexible plastic or vinyl and come with 7 or 12 sections. Instead of using loose leaf dividers, students can  label sections of the folder for each subject and have additional sections labeled "take home", "bring back", and other useful headings. Parents can assist younger students with reviewing the papers in each section roughly once a week, moving those papers that need to be kept for studying or other purposes into a longer term folder kept at home and discarding those papers that are no longer needed. Even older students may need assistance with this process in the beginning; they should be responsible for doing this themselves once they get the hang of it.

Another simple kind of tool can help students who struggle with graphomotor issues.  Writing aids and implements like Dexball, Dr. Grip, Twist n' Write and weighted universal holders can all be extremely effective in helping students work around graphomotor weaknesses. Students who are old enough to learn to keyboard, generally age seven and older, may also benefit from having access to a computer at home or in class or both. This doesn't mean that such students should abandon work on their handwriting skills. Using the computer will liberate these students from having their written expression hobbled by their handwriting difficulties. They can work on their handwriting as a separate skill, but by taking it out of the equation for some creative tasks and responsive essays their knowledge and creativity can be expressed without the limitations imposted by their graphomotor challenges.  

It also may be time to take another look at a tried and true guide to paper management,  The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond, by Donna Goldberg. This book is not for those who prefer cutting edge technology, but for those students and parents who need help dealing with the volumes of papers that overwhelm many students.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Links

Conversing Your Way to Better Math Performance (Math Hub)
Teens with ADHD delay degree or drop out (USA Today)
Interviews regaining foothold in college admissions (Wa. Post)
Summer Camp for the Cool and Career-Conscious (NY Times)
A Food Bill We Need (Washington Post)