Particular Training College students, Dad and mom Welcome Extra ‘Regular’ Faculty 12 months
Mollie Emery from Bloomington has a young son, Aedan. He was due to start kindergarten at Northpoint Elementary School in August last year.
Emery said her son is academically good but needs structure.
“It is difficult for Aedan to regulate his emotions and behavior, be it excitement or sadness or anger,” said Emery. “He’s just a very intense kid.”
Aedan was enrolled in the Special Education Services of Unit 5 for help with motor skills and language; he was nonverbal before he got through Easterseal’s speech therapy.
Because of the pandemic, Aedan began spending much of his time at home in kindergarten in front of a computer screen. It didn’t go well, even with four days of hybrid classes a week. The Emerys hoped remote learning would be in the short term, but COVID-19 cases were on the rise in McLean County. In November, Unit 5 went completely remotely.
Mollie Emery said it was time to get out.
“I think that’s when my husband and I bumped into the wall (thinking) that this can’t go on. It’s not sustainable, ”she said. “Our child is not sleeping, it is developing backwards. We are losing skills that took years to achieve. ”
The Emerys weren’t alone.
The final year of school has been tough for many students due to distance and hybrid learning during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. But it was especially tough on students in need of special education services.
When the pandemic restrictions forced educators to completely reimagine the way they deliver classes, Mollie Emery said children like Aeden fell through the grid. In Unit 5, only special school students with more intensive needs received face-to-face tuition throughout the year.
“I don’t think the story of the way our special school students were treated during this (pandemic) is going to be very kind.”
District special education director Carrie Chapman said she wanted all special needs students in person. That is almost 2,200 across the district. Chapman was told that if there were enough teachers and other staff willing to work in person during the pandemic, she could.
“I could reach out to the staff and ask if they would be willing to do this,” Chapman explained. “If I didn’t have staff who were ready, then I would have no way of bringing these students back.”
Chapman said many agreed to teach in person, but not enough to get every special education student back into the classroom as some were concerned about the health risks.
She found that some special school students cannot wear a mask and that there was no COVID vaccine at the time. As a result, students in the Level 1 Special Services, who needed less support, remained hybrid for much of the school year.
Lindsey Dickinson, president of the Teachers’ Union for the Unit Five Education Association, said the district was unable to guarantee safe working conditions at the time of these discussions.
“When the district was able to take appropriate mitigation measures, we happily returned to face-to-face classes to serve our students and the community,” said Dickinson. “Unit 5 teachers are always ready to do what is in the best interests of the students.”
Chapman said she understood the difficulties some parents saw their children study online, but said teachers did their best to add structure and flexibility to the curriculum. She also said that face-to-face lessons don’t always go as smoothly as they could imagine.
“I had to remind staff, and sometimes parents, that we can see this in the classroom too, where it just won’t work for this student,” said Chapman. “Of course we don’t send her home. We’re working on building other supports in the classroom. “
Despite the dramatically different format, executives in special education in Bloomington Normal say that students fared much better on distance learning than you might think.
Brandon Thornton teaches specialty English and math at Bloomington High School. Thornton said he saw a sharp surge in the number of children on the verge of failure in the spring and distance learning caused fear among some students. He said it’s especially hard for kids who don’t have a real study space at home to get away from distractions.
Thornton said BBB teachers dropped curricula that he said did not serve children and explained what was most relevant.
“Those are the most important things for English. This is the main math content that will take you to the next level of math. We cut out the things that didn’t have to be done, ”Thornton said.
Thornton said that reinforcing key content more strongly helped students recover and avoid learning losses. He said the modified format also revealed to him a truth about student individual attention.
“I think the power of support is far more important than we as educators believed,” beamed Thornton. “At least in some classes we had to give up homework. We did a lot in class. “
But Thornton said he doesn’t see teachers dropping homework anytime soon.
Mollie Emery’s son Aedan temporarily dropped out of kindergarten last year because she said distance learning doesn’t help. The Emerys enrolled him in a private preschool so he could be with other children until Unit 5 got all of the students back into the classroom.
Emery raved about how Aedan was like a different kid when he got back into the classroom.
“I’m almost going to cry. You could ask his director. You could ask his therapist, his teacher. Between February and May it was phenomenal what he did, ”said Emery. “As happy as it makes you, it makes you sad to think about how much further he could be.”
When Aeden starts first grade, his mother hopes that her son will be able to attend general education when he leaves elementary school.
Emery said she did not hold Unit 5 responsible for the fighting Aeden faced last year, but said it had to fight to get him legal aid. It consisted of two hours of personal instruction and therapy each week.
“I don’t think the story of the way our special school students were treated during this (pandemic) is going to be very kind,” said Emery. “You have rights that are not resolving due to COVID, and those rights have definitely been violated.”
Emery said it worked for Aedan because she was able to get him to a private preschool. But she said many other parents don’t have that option. She said it kept her up at night.
Thornton said while school is much closer to normal this year, we could all use grace and patience.