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Teaching Complex Needs Students During a Pandemic and the Lessons Learned


February 11, 2021 -- Chris Williams is in his sixth year of teaching as an intervention specialist at Colerain Elementary School, a school where a significant number of students have orthopedic and health impairments. Recently Wallace was featured in a national article published by the National Education Association (NEA) about educating special needs students during a global health pandemic.

“One major takeaway has been the importance of frequently collaborating with families,” said Williams. “I've communicated far more with families this year out of necessity, and it has been eye-opening for me. With virtual instruction, we're essentially co-teaching with the people who know the child best, and it has really helped me better meet their needs. It has also forced us all to find creative ways to be engaging and effective, whether we're teaching from home or in the building. We've discovered so many new technology tools and resources we will use moving forward no matter what instruction model we find ourselves in!” 

Chris Williams’ principal at Colerain Elementary School, Candace Nespeca, describes her staff as an “unstoppable, cohesive machine even in a pandemic.” Nespeca goes on to say, “Every staff member, no matter their title or job description, rolled up their sleeves and made it happen. There were many road trips throughout the city, dropping off hands-on materials to students’ homes and favorite learning tools from their classrooms to connect with our kids and meet their needs. We learned that we could use everyday household items to assist with online lessons when we weren't able to transport everything we would typically use in the classroom.”

Many of the students at Colerain have complex communication needs, which presented unique challenges with online learning. “Not being able to be face-to-face was certainly not ideal,” said Nespeca. “Our staff creatively used green screens,  silly voices, and made funny faces, basically turning themselves into kids show characters, to help bridge that connection. We have learned that although not as natural as when in person, this can be done and is possible with a little creative thinking and costume changes between lessons. Now that we're back in person, in a hybrid model, we have learned to continue to use technology to engage our students when not in the classroom. Using mobile iPad stations and our support staff, instructional assistants, and childcare attendants, we have continued to keep all the kids engaged, whether at school or in person."

The heavy reliance on technology is something this principal sees continuing long after the pandemic when students are back in her school building full-time. “Requiring families to trudge out in the snow with their little ones in tow is not necessary,” said Nespeca. “We can connect on the screen and still make meaningful decisions as a team for our students.”

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