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Ask a Lawyer Episode 3- Erik Glazner and Erika Casablanca on getting special needs students prepared for life experiences

Transcript of Interview with Alpha, Harbor and Gateway Schools

Christine: Hi everyone, this is Christine Matus,the owner of The Matus Law Group. Today we are honored to have Erik Glazner and Erika Casablanca as our guests. Erik is supervisor of instruction for Alpha, Harbor and the Gateway Schools, and Erika is STEM lab teacher at the Gateway School. Erika also leads the marketing team for Alpha, Harbor and Gateway schools. Erik, tell us about yourself, what you do, and your mission.

Erik: I’ve been working for Alpha, Harbor and Gateway Schools for a year. I’ve worked in special education for about 17 years, so it’s always been my passion. Harbor, Alpha and Gateway Schools are a new journey in my life which I’ve loved the past year. They are great schools with great administration, and the owners are wonderful. My mission is to help students with special needs.

Christine: That’s great and Erika?

Erika: I’ve been working with children with special needs since I was 16 years old. I’ve had lots of different experiences. I taught in a different school for seven years, and I came to Gateway about four years ago. I love working with the students, and I got the opportunity to be the STEM lab facilitator for Gateway, which opened up about two years ago. It’s a great way to teach the students, especially students with special needs. This year I became the lead for the marketing team for all three schools.

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Christine: You mentioned three schools. Can you tell us more about them and where they’re located?

Erika: All three schools are in New Jersey. Alpha’s in Jackson, Harbor’s in Eatontown and Gateway is in Carteret. All of our schools are dedicated to helping students with learning, social, language, and behavioral challenges. Our dedication has opened us up to a wide range of disabilities, such as specific learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorder, multiple disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, behavioral disorders and other health impairments. Our schools provide support in areas like life skills, transition, community-based instruction, mental health and psychiatric services, and therapies such as counseling, speech, physical therapy and occupational therapy.

Erik: We’ve been a leader in special education since 1980, and are a network of three special education schools under the umbrella of RKS Associates and serve students from ages five through 21. Our mission is to empower our students with the skills for life. We truly believe every individual is entitled to a full and meaningful life and can contribute to a better world.

Erika: Our curriculum is vast and is not only academic, it’s also functional, and is based on the New Jersey’s Student Learning Standards. We have differentiated instruction that fits each individual learning style. Our dedicated staff uses hands-on multi-sensory approach to ensure they reach each child. Our reading programs use online resources like Unique Learning System and Reading A-C. Also included are highly sequenced programs such as Edmark and Wilson. With our math instruction, we include functional and advanced math skills, and we use manipulatives and hands-on experiential instruction to reach each student. My classroom is the state-of-the-art STEM lab at Gateway and was started two years ago. The students use project-based learning to explore their creativity and answer real-life problems. It’s a new way to teach students with special needs, and it’s exciting. The lab features six computers, with over 100 different types of software including WE kits and technology equipment, and 60 content areas. Our students have the opportunity to shape learning around their interests and explore topics in depth. They’re learning how to make choices, communicate, solve problems, and build next-generation skills. They can explore scientific data analysis, circuitry, mechanics and structures, computer graphics, alternative energy, software engineering and robotics.

Erik: All three schools use cutting-edge system technology. In the classroom, students use AAC devices, which is an augmentative and alternative communication device. Students use iPads and Mimio boards, which are interactive whiteboards. In two of our schools, we have humanoid robots. Alpha has a robot named “AlphaBot,” and Harbor has a robot named “Sheldon.” They interact with the children, and that enhances their academic and therapeutic instruction. Teachers can choose from over 50 different activities, games, and even dances that bring excitement into the learning process.

All three of our schools recognize the importance of independent living and life skills. That’s why our curriculum incorporates daily living activities like cooking, doing laundry, and self-care. Students practice brushing their teeth, grooming, and other basic hygiene practices. Each school’s equipped with an “Activities of Daily Living”, or ADL room where students can practice these skills. That room has a full kitchen, washing machine, and a dryer.

Christine: What are the options for students when they graduate?

Erik: We prepare our students by teaching pre-vocational skills through various activities and businesses throughout the school. For instance, they do packaging, assembly collating and sorting. At Harbor and Alpha schools, we have a career ed classroom set up like a small entrepreneurial business. Students photograph mugs, embroider napkins, bags, and t-shirts, and they design special occasion cards. They’re learning essential business and softer skills.

Community Based Instruction, or CBI, teaches our students to generalize classroom knowledge into different community environments. They learn skills in employment, community activities, and recreation. They also participate in “Structured Learning Experience”, or SLE, where the students are placed at various off-campus work sites. They go to the grocery store, restaurants, or even the beach, and can use these skills as they transition into adult living and the world of work.

Christine: You mentioned earlier that you serve students with behavioral disorders. How do your schools manage behaviors?

Erika: Our schools encourage healthy social behaviors by promoting appropriate interactions and interpersonal skills essential to succeed in any environment. Our teachers and staff members encourage positive social interactions by giving students the opportunity to practice social skills in various social interactions and activities, both inside the classroom and out in the community. Our students work on skills such as anger management, taking turns, giving compliments to one another, apologizing, and dealing with their emotions, and others’ emotions.

The Alpha and Harbor schools have after-school social skills programs for students who require additional help. The students interact with peers in a safe environment and then participate in structured cooperative team-building activities such as peer relationships, conversational skills, eye contact, body language, cooperative play skills, assertive conflict resolution, empathy, and managing their emotions.

Erik: We serve some of the most challenging students who have various behavior disorders. Therefore, we provide an assortment of behavior management therapies. We approach behaviors from many different angles and with many different supports. Each school employs an onsite certified school social worker, as well as a board-certified behavior analyst, or BCBA. Our social workers provide students with individual and group counseling. During these counseling sessions, our students are able to express themselves in a safe environment. They also receive positive social skills reinforcement. What’s more, the BCBA provides for students who require behavioral interventions. The BCBA works with teachers, staff, and families to reduce or eliminate behaviors in our school setting.

Harbor and Gateway schools also manage behaviors through nonviolent behavior management systems. Alpha school uses a behavior management system called “Handle with Care” and Harbor and Gateway schools, use a behavior management system called “Crisis Prevention and Intervention Services” or CPI. All of these programs are safe for both our staff and students and are designed to help the staff provide the best possible safe care for students during their disruptive moments. The goal is to find positive ways of dealing with crises, so there are less traumatic experiences. This is done by recognizing the early student crisis signs, and staff intervenes before the behaviors escalate. Each school has a permanent crisis team that provides an immediate response in the earliest stages.

Erika: Gateway and Harbor schools offer school-based child psychiatric services by collaborating with Rutgers University Behavior Healthcare, also known as UBHC. This program works collaboratively with a psychiatrist to develop behavior plans, monitor student progress, and evaluate teachers to support positive mental health. UBHC works with Gateway and Harbor schools to develop prevention and intervention strategies, which creates a healthy learning environment and allows us to better address the mental health and psychiatric needs of some of our more developmentally challenged students. This service is free, and families receive medical management, crisis intervention, and individual and family counseling.

Christine: How can parents reach you?

Erik: We have a website for each school. Alpha school’s website is www.alphaschool.com or call 732-370-1150. Harbor school’s website is www.harborschool.com or call 732-544-9394. And lastly, Gateway school’s website is www.thegatewayschool.com, or call at 732-541-4400.

Christine Matus

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