Tag Archives: education

ECLC of New Jersey Successfully Offers In-Person Education for Students with Special Needs

Children with disabilities, such as Down syndrome, are among those most vulnerable to COVID-19, yet since September classrooms have been open at ECLC of New Jersey’s schools for students with special needs.

The schools located in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus reopened in the Fall and have remained open nearly every day for in-person education. 

Of course, it wasn’t easy returning 250 students, who live in towns all across New Jersey, to the classroom. Strict protocols had to be established, and the administration had to reconfigure classrooms to reduce risks. 

Each day, students are temperature-checked before they can enter the building, and parents must complete a COVID-19 Risk Assessment questionnaire, either on a phone app or paper. Students and staff are masked up. Plexiglass shields are installed on  desks to enhance safety.

The school day looks different, too. The schedule has been shortened to four hours daily, and students mostly stay within their assigned classroom, except for gym class, sensory breaks, speech therapy or other specialized services. Art and music are taught virtually by teachers brought into the classroom through Zoom video.

In addition to creating a safe, in-person learning environment, ECLC has worked creatively to continue its work-readiness program. ECLC students graduate at age 21 and spend their final years preparing for life as adults. Usually, older students travel into the community for job sampling and to take tours of work sites. 

During the pandemic that’s impossible, so teachers have brought small jobs into the classroom to continue developing work skills. Students have completed a variety of projects, from stuffing calendars into plastic bags for the Borough of Chatham to customizing shopping bags for a florist shop. 

The schools have used Zoom to continue activities across classrooms and to include remote learners. Girl Scouts, clubs and after-school social events, such as dance parties and singalongs, help boost school spirit.

This inclusionary environment is important because about one-third of students are continuing with remote learning. They learn through a live video feed of the classroom teacher and on Zoom for related-services therapy sessions.

“In this hybrid model, we are proud to provide in-person instruction and related services to the maximum extent possible, while continuing remote learning at the highest quality for those students who cannot join us in school,” said Chatham School Principal Jason Killian. 

Given the choice of going back to school or remote learning, an overwhelming number of families sent their students back to the classroom. Killian was not surprised. “In-person instruction is critical to our students with special needs who thrive on routine, structure and direct access with teachers and therapists,” he said. 

Beth Freeman, whose daughter, Micayla, 10, has Down syndrome, agrees. “It has had an enormously positive impact for Micayla to go back to school,” she said. “Our kids with Down syndrome need in-person therapy, and they thrive on schedules. I was starting to see behavior changes and regression. Since going back, it’s been like night and day.”

Freeman has been impressed with how ECLC has handled the pandemic. Micayla transferred to the ECLC Chatham school last year, just four weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown. “Last March, they did a great job of pivoting from in-person to live Zoom classes and sending home packets,” she said. “They were really prepared.” 

Another parent, Eldy Pavon, understands the concerns of families who are keeping their children at home. Initially, she kept her son, Nico, out of school because she was worried about the risks of exposure. For the past year, they have done everything possible to keep the family safe, especially Nico, who is immunocompromised. “We basically don’t leave the house,” she said. “We don’t see anyone or have anyone over.”

So, when the Chatham school re-opened in September, she chose remote learning for Nico. “I wanted to see how things went,” she said. “And, they did a great job. By November, I felt comfortable sending him back to the school.” As an extra precaution, either she or her husband drive Nico from Westfield to the Chatham school.

Like many parents of children with special needs, she had noticed regression with Nico when he was out of school and those have disappeared. “Getting back to school is about more than academics. It’s really key to his emotional and social growth,” she said. “I am so grateful that he can see his friends again. Other districts should look at ECLC and follow in their footsteps — it’s been life changing for us!”

Nico is back in the classroom and loving it. “He’s like a totally different child. He’s very routine-oriented, and this puts him back into a routine,” said Pavon. “Plus, it gives us separation between family members. His younger sister is at home two days a week for her schooling; my husband is working from home. We were all on top of each other. This has relieved a lot of stress.”

The same is true for the Freeman family. When Micayla was learning remotely, there were challenges for her parents. “Her dad or I would need to monitor Micalaya during class and then work at night to make up for the lost time,” said Freeman. 

That’s no longer necessary with Micayla back at school. “She loves her teacher and comes home from school happy,” said Freeman. “When your child comes home laughing and smiling, it makes all the difference in the world. It makes you feel good.”  

About ECLC

In 2020, ECLC celebrated 50 years of offering “Education, Careers & Lifelong Community” to children and adults with special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and multiple disabilities.

The nonprofit was founded in 1970 as the Early Childhood Learning Centers of New Jersey to provide early-intervention services to a handful of pre-school children. 

Today, ECLC is an accredited, nonprofit with schools in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus, educating about 250 students, and additional programs serving more than 500 adult clients and ECLC school alumni.

ECLC offers transition and employment services through its affiliate, Community Personnel Services (CPS). CPS helps adults with disabilities find jobs in their communities and provides ongoing support and advocacy in the workplace.

Graduates who are not ready for the workplace can enter the PRIDE Adult Program, with centers in Florham Park and Paramus. More than 170 adults are enrolled in PRIDE, which is exclusively for ECLC alumni. Adults in PRIDE spend meaningful days in activities, volunteering in the community and continuing to learn and grow throughout adulthood. Learn more about ECLC.

Tips for Celebrating a Safe Halloween

Don’t be scared to celebrate Halloween. As with most events taking place in 2020, Halloween can happen in-person or in a more virtual setting.

How you choose to celebrate likely depends on your individual circumstances, your town’s regulations and your overall comfort level.

Here are a few suggestions to help make it a more enjoyable experience!

In-Person Trick-or-Treating Tips: 

  • Wear a mask, if you are venturing out.
  • Plan ahead, and travel the routes or houses you plan to visit ahead of time.
  • Make a simple “map” of your route to help serve as a visual reminder and set expectations.
  • Be mindful of Halloween decorations that make noises or have visuals effects that may be triggering to your child’s sensory issues.
  • Highlight the importance of continuing to keep hands clean and maintain social distance from others when out in the neighborhood.

Virtual Celebration Ideas:

  • Hold a virtual Halloween party with a family and friends with everyone in costumes.
  • Go “trick-or-treating” in your own house; move from room to room with candy and treats at each doorway.
  • Plan to watch Halloween movies, and let each family member pick a favorite film. 
  • Pile into the car, and go for a tour of nearby homes that are decorated for Halloween.

Ho-Ho-Kus School Social Worker Cynthia Chaanine & Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)  Matthew Kuzdral

Learn more at www.eclcofnj.org.

Keeping Active in the August Break

Our school’s Extended School Year (ESY) is over, and keeping children busy during the month of August is no easy task. But, add in a pandemic, and we have even fewer ways to keep children entertained. 

Below are some fun and safe ways to keep children active, during these difficult times:

  • Online fitness for families and a list of sports programs. 
  • Kids entering pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade can explore animals, science and nature through the online Bronx Zoo Wildlife Camp 
  • Camp Sunshine is a structured program developed for young people between the ages of six to 21, with moderate to severe autism spectrum disorder or other special needs. Their multidisciplinary team of professionals oversees a creative and fun boy-843484_1920camp program designed to help each child reach his or her highest potential. 
  • Visit a petting farm from the comfort of your car or walk through it at Brookhollow’s Barnyard in Boonton. 
  • It is important to continue reading books for pleasure; visit Scholastic for ideas.
  • Epic offers access to hundreds of free books.
  • The SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Daytime Emmy®-nominated and award-winning children’s literacy website, Storyline Online®, streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books, alongside creatively produced illustrations. Readers include Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Kristen Bell, Rita Moreno, Viola Davis, Jaime Camil, Kevin Costner, Lily Tomlin, Sarah Silverman, Betty White, Wanda Sykes and dozens more.
  • Pinterest offers a ton of fun arts and crafts activities.

Getting Ahead of Back-to-School 

Lastly, try to spend a little time preparing your child for a return to school in September. Whether attending in-person or virtually, a review of expectations and changes will help them feel more at ease with the transition.

Practice and highlight the importance of wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance from their friends and teachers and washing their hands consistently.

Stay safe and healthy from the ECLC of New Jersey Ho-Ho-Kus school Staff!

By Cynthia Chaanine, LCSW, & Matthew Kuzdral, M.S., BCBA

 

How to Successfully Cope in Our New Virtual World

Greetings from our new virtual world! Hi, everyone, wherever you may be during the COVID-19 outbreak. This is an important time for us to stay in touch and connected. It’s a time for social distancing, not social isolation.

All of us feel the stress of change and anxieties about the unknown –- and the known! We are all going through the same trying situation, and doing the best we can. Let’s not judge ourselves too harshly or create unrealistic goals for ourselves.

It may feel like we are on the deck of the Titanic sometimes, but, instead, let’s imagine we are all in lifeboats and heading together for a safer harbor. And, waving from six feet away!

There are a number of worries we could discuss, but let’s focus on one at a time, which is a good coping strategy.   

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Distance Learning

Our ECLC  students are not in the school building for now, and we are all coming together to keep our classes and student contacts as consistent and normal as possible. We all miss one another. But, it has been great to sign on to “Zoom” and see our students!

I have heard some students are shy or uncomfortable using Zoom or being seen on camera.  Don’t force them! Have them listen and answer questions a little off camera for the time being. Practice using Zoom or FaceTime, etc., with friends and family to increase comfort.

Talking About Government Stay-at-Home Orders

  • In general, the (modified) truth is best. They will not be able to take in all that we are hearing. It is anxiety-provoking for us to hear! Plain, short, calm explanations are best, focusing on why we need to stay safe. It is okay to let them know that the situation worries you, too, but set limits on how much frightening information you share.
  • Limit news viewing (for all of us, really!). 
  • Assure them that you have a plan; that you will stick together and deal with it as a family.
  • Explain that everyone is going through this, and that it is very new and uncomfortable and will come to end.
  • A very good explanation of the coronavirus situation is: A Curious Guide for Courageous Kids developed by the Children’s Museum in Verona, Italy. Download the English version. 

Ideas for Staying Happy at Home

Hold a Family Meeting – Have a family meeting, and decide what works for the family. Don’t forget what you and other adults need during the day. Everyone’s situation is different, but it is important to try to preserve time for you and something that makes you feel relaxed or happy. This can be reading time, fitness time, connecting with your friends/family, or simply rest time.

Routines and Schedule – Using an erasable board or a daily calendar is helpful. If your child has a daily schedule of wash, breakfast, school, you should keep to it. Don’t worry if you have to flex the times; it’s staying with a schedule that’s helpful. Do what works for you! 

Stay Active – Make time for activities, such as fitness, crafts or games, outside time, media/TV, study, etc., into the day. This will help prevent the easy slide into sleeping away the day or unlimited social media time. It takes time for our students to get into a positive school-readiness routine –- we don’t want to lose that now. Keeping to a regular bedtime is also helpful.

Telecommuting – If you are working from home, set boundaries about when you are available, and when there is a break time. Create a “chill out” space, with a few floor pillows or a chair, headphones/games/books, in a quiet area, where anyone can go who needs a quiet break.

Social Media – In the past, we been concerned about social media and the online world, but it is a mainstay right now.  And, thankfully we have those means! Keep in touch with friends and supports. For family activities, there are many free resources available. You can tour a museum, play interactive games, watch wildlife cams or do yoga or fitness classes. Teens can connect on FaceTime or Zoom, play interactive games or just chat. (As before, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what is being done or watched online). It is now our way to “see” one another and keep our social communities strong. 

Health Plans – We’ve all heard the basic requirements about keeping safe during  the coronavirus (hand washing,  social distancing, etc.). Follow them all, and be a good role model for others. Build physical activity into your family’s plans — go to the park or work on the yard. Try some relaxation videos, yoga classes or meditation. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, if things are getting you down. We at ECLC are also available daily through e-mail.

Articles and Resources:

Take care, everyone!

Allison Weideman,

ECLC of New Jersey Chatham School Psychologist