Teacher Relates to Students Because of Her ‘Disability’

When Victoria Johnson, who teaches at the ECLC school in Ho-Ho-Kus, walks into her classroom, she understands and feels the depth of the students’ frustrations on a personal level. The reason for this strong connection is that Victoria has struggled with her own learning disability, since she was a child. Her personal experience of struggling to overcome a disability provides her with a unique understanding and insight into her students. After years of under-performing in school, Victoria was classified with a learning disability (a processing disorder) in the sixth grade.

“At the time, my self-esteem was extremely low, and I had just about given up on learning. You can try so hard, and if you have difficulty processing information receptively and expressively, it becomes very challenging to learn. People don’t want to take the time to listen to you if you are not fast enough to get your point across,” she remembers.

Victoria Johnson inspires students every day!

Victoria Johnson inspires students every day!

But, Victoria persevered and eventually began to think of becoming a teacher of children with special needs. She wanted to pass along the strategies that had helped her succeed and help students with special needs gain the confidence to learn in different ways and build up their self-esteem to accomplish their goals.

Today, no matter what challenges a student is facing, Victoria can see through to the root of the problem and find a solution. Her mantra?: “I love these students!” She uses her strong organizational skills to reach goals and deadlines. And, she teaches her students that a sense of humor helps, to laugh at your struggles and mistakes rather than shutting down and giving up. She loves to teach students how to advocate for themselves and not to be afraid to try new things.

During her time at ECLC, Victoria has taken on a leadership role beyond the classroom. She has helped coordinate the annual prom, chaperoned weekend sleepovers at the school, taken students for holiday shopping trips, and mentored new staff members and graduate students. She also has successfully created partnerships in the community, involving students with packaging items for a local food bank. Her generous heart knows no bounds. She has walked in Autism Speaks walk in our area and organizes penny collections for the Kiwanis Club and soda can pop tops for Ronald McDonald House. We are so lucky to have Victoria as part our ECLC family!


Giving Tuesday!

Like nonprofits all across the country, today we are promoting the idea of Giving Tuesday! During this busy holiday season, we are hoping that our supporters will take a break from cyber-shopping, the malls and Main Streets to consider making a donation to our organization.
The generosity of private donations allows us to continue in our mission of serving more than 700 children and adults with special needs across our different entities.
Federal and state moneys can’t do it all. We created the ECLC Foundation to fill the gaps in our budget and bolster our schools and adult programs, so we can keep growing and innovating with the latest tools and technologies. Giving Tuesday is a chance for us to make a case for our terrific cause.

Our Occupational Therapist Named Best in New Jersey for Serving Students with Special Needs

Brandy Springer seems to do it all. As an occupational therapist at our school in Ho-Ho-Kus, Springer provides one-to-one therapy sessions for a large caseload of students every day. She created and teaches an after-school yoga program and incorporates yoga into the classroom and therapy. She manages special diets for dozens of students. She is a regular speaker at education conferences around the state, and she provides workshops for ECLC parents, covering topics, such as sensory integration, stress reduction and feeding and nutrition.

In addition to her many professional achievements, Springer embodies her sunny name. Like the season following winter, Springer lights up the room with her radiant smile and her warm personality can thaw the frostiest of hearts.

Those professional and personal qualities, coupled with her dedication and hard work, have brought Springer to the top of her profession as a school occupational therapist. She has been named New Jersey’s “Related Services Provider of the Year” by ASAH., a nonprofit that represents 135 private, special education schools and agencies serving students with disabilities across the state. Each year, the honor goes to an outstanding occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker or speech therapist at one of ASAH’s member schools or agencies. Winners are chosen at the regional level, and then an overall state winner was selected during the ASAH conference in Atlantic City on Nov.15.

O.T. Brandy Springer does it all and with a smile!

O.T. Brandy Springer was recognized by ASAH, a nonprofit that represents 135 private, special education schools and agencies serving students with disabilities across the state.

Springer has worked at ECLC of New Jersey’s special-needs school in Ho-Ho-Kus for five years and is a valued asset to the staff. “Brandy is the kind of person who is not only willing to take on challenges, but takes them on with enthusiasm, professionalism, and complete dedication,” said Ho-Ho-Kus Principal Vicki Lindorff. “Whenever a request is asked of Brandy, you can expect one of two answers: ‘Sure!’ or ‘No problem!’ She is the type of person who never says ‘No.’ ”

This award marks the third year in a row that ECLC of New Jersey’s school staff members have been recognized for excellence at the state level by ASAH. In 2013, one of ECLC’s veteran Chatham school teachers, Judy McGrath, was named the state’s “Educator of the Year,” and in 2012, Sharon Luberto, who is the physical therapist at ECLC’s school in Ho-Ho-Kus was named the “Related Services Provider of the Year.”

“We are so proud of Brandy for this recognition. Through her work at our school in Ho-Ho-Kus, she is making a tremendous difference in the lives of children with special needs every day. She also supports our staff, parents and other professionals in the field,” said ECLC Executive Director, Bruce Litinger. “We are so proud of her achievement.”

Springer is also giving back by passing on her expertise to students and colleagues in the field. She is a fieldwork supervisor for occupational therapy students from Eastwick College, Seton Hall University and Ithaca College, and she provides workshops through a grant from the state Department of Education, via Rutgers University, for the Safe Schools program at locations all over New Jersey. In addition, she was a co-presenter at the 2014 Council for Exceptional Children conference in Mahwah.

Tips on Behavior Management: Reinforcement v. Punishment

Contributed by Oksana Huk, ECLC Ho-Ho-Kus School Psychologist

The terms reinforcement and punishment are often used when discussing behavior management, but their definitions are often misunderstood.

Reinforcement is simply the attempt to increase a behavior; while punishment is the attempt to decrease a behavior. The term positive refers to giving something to someone, and the term negative refers to taking something away.

 When managing difficult behaviors the best approach is to withhold the reinforcement for the undesirable behavior and provide reinforcement for an alternative behavior. This way, a person’s needs can still be met, but by using a socially-desirable behavior.

So let’s take an example from the classroom. Suppose a student is repeatedly calling out in class. We might learn that the reason the student is calling out in class is to gain attention, and every time they gain attention for calling out, they are being positively reinforced for calling out.IMG_1994

If we want to decrease the frequency of calling out, rather than giving something aversive to the student or taking something desirable away, we would no longer provide the desired attention when they call out. If they don’t receive the reinforcement for calling out, they will stop calling out.

Notice that nothing is taken away from the student for calling out, nor is anything aversive given to the student. The behavior is not punished; it is just not reinforced.

Reinforcement is used rather than punishment, because it is always easier to reinforce a new behavior rather than punishing current behaviors! Very important, we also have to teach an alternative behavior. So if the student wants attention, we will teach them to raise their hand and give attention every time they raise their hand and positively reinforce that new behavior. With proper reinforcement, the behavior will continue over time.

  Reinforcement Punishment
Positive Giving something desirable to increase the frequency of a behavior(e.g., increasing the frequency that someone will eat vegetables by giving them dessert after they eat them) Giving something aversive to decrease the frequency of a behavior(e.g., decreasing speeding in the future by giving a speeding ticket)
Negative Taking something aversive away to increase the frequency of a behavior(e.g., increasing the frequency that someone will wear that seatbelt by taking away an annoying sound when they click their belt) Taking something desirable away to decrease the frequency of behavior.(e.g., decreasing fighting between siblings by taking away toys)

Soccer Season Kicks Off!

This week our Chatham school soccer team played its second game of the season on the beautiful municipal turf field behind the school. Our students have a chance to get off the sidelines and play on soccer, basketball and softball teams, against students from other local special-education schools. Our physical education teachers act as coaches, and while everyone likes to win, their goal is to support our students and help them improve their playing skills to the best of their abilities. The sports programs helps build our students’ motor skills and gives them time for informal socializing and relaxation with classmates. Most importantly, like any young person, they love being part of a team, proudly wearing a uniform and earning their varsity letters andIMG_2443 jackets!

New P.R.I.D.E. Center Opens for Adults with Special Needs — New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno Helps Cut the Ribbon!

On. Oct. 1, we officially opened a new P.R.I.D.E. center for our adult clients with special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities, and recognized major donors who made the new center possible through their generosity.

The P.R.I.D.E. Center opened following a $450,000 capital campaign to transform a drab warehouse space into a cheery, bright center with activity rooms, a teaching kitchen, a model apartment, and a technology center. The center also includes a dedicated work area where adult clients earn a paycheck by completing contracted work, such as shredding and packaging, for local businesses.

A former ECLC Chatham school staff member, Toby Cooperman, and her husband, Leon, were instrumental in the campaign’s success. They donated a $125,000 challenge matching grant, which inspired others to give. This infusion of funds allowed ECLC to finish the campaign in a short six months.

The grand opening also highlighted October’s “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” which recognizes the contributions of workers with disabilities. The theme for 2014 is “Expect. Employ. Empower.” With a nod to these three goals, P.R.I.D.E. Director, Dot Libman, said, “With this new center, we are truly able to fulfill what our acronym stands for: Promoting Responsibility, Independence, Decision-making and Employability. At P.R.I.D.E., we always look to empower our clients and look to support their capabilities and nurture their strengths.”

ECLC welcomed elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, for the milestone event. In her remarks, Guadagno applauded ECLC and said she came to the event because she wanted to “see happy people, getting what they need.” She said that after visiting 32 facilities like P.R.I.D.E what she has learned is, “The biggest pain, the biggest nightmare of a parent isn’t that these facilities exist, it’s that there aren’t enough of them. What will happen to my child when he ages out? What will happen to my child when I die? Those are the issues, and you’re dealing with them right here.”

State Senator and former Governor Richard Codey, Morris County Freeholder Deputy Director David Scapicchio, Morris County Freeholder Kathryn DeFillippo and Florham Park Mayor Mark Taylor all joined in the celebration and helped cut the ribbon.

Back to School for Puppy-in-Training

At our Ho-Ho-Kus school, Mandy, a service puppy-in-training, has spent the first few weeks of her final six months there busily working with students. In February 2015, Mandy will go to Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), the group that placed Mandy with Cheryl Avino, the school’s social worker, for training. Everyone is hoping that Mandy passes the rigorous process of becoming a service dog to assist a person with disabilities. In the meantime, Mandy is spending her time helping our students in therapies and aiding them to stay focused on learning. Students look forward to spending time with Mandy. Since 2008, the school’s students have benefited from our unique dog therapy program every day, working with full-time service dog, Patrina.

Students are helping to train Mandy for future placement as a service dog through Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).

Students are helping to train Mandy for future placement as a service dog through Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).