Jose Celso Barbosa (P.S./M.S. 206)
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ASD Nest program for children with autism spectrum disorders
Teachers must focus on many children with low literacy skills
PS/MS 206 is a safe school with a mix of freedom and structure. Children wear uniforms and work in small groups; they use textbooks and do hands-on activities. The school has a dual language Spanish-English program and hosts an ASD Nest Program for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Students with ASD learn in a classroom alongside typically developing children, taught by two teachers who have been trained in the programs specialized curriculum and teaching strategies.
Housed in a building shared with two progressive schools (PS 112, an early childhood center for grades PK-2; and River East, a K-5 school), PS/MS 206 begins with third grade and goes through middle school. The three schools peaceably share an auditorium, an occupational therapy room, a gym and a large outdoor play yard.
We saw children working calmly on a range of activities. Sixth graders were reading pages from a textbook about natural disasters and an article about Hurricane Sandy. They listed facts from the readings onto worksheets. In another class, a group worked on a hands-on measurement activity. Teachers display timers while children are working to foster independence, particularly for literacy. With the timers and points for good behavior, the school is more structured than its feeder school, PS 112a vibrant, progressive school where lessons stem from childrens questions about a topic.
Like PS 112, about half the classrooms have 4 or 5 children with Aspergers who learn alongside 12 to 16 typically developing children, depending on the grade. These classrooms have two teachers, one of whom is trained to teach special education. All children are exposed to the same lessons. Counselors, coaches and therapists are on-hand to provide support.
According to Principal Camille Forbes, formerly the literacy coach and assistant principal, the training her staff has received on how to work with the ASD students has transformed the way teachers approach every child. When we look at behavior, we dont focus on the action alone, she said. We look at underlying issues in order to change the action.
ASD Nest children appreciate distinct boundaries. To promote good behavior, staff reward children with points for positive behavior culminating in a special responsibility, a treat or lunch with a teacher. There is a room for conflict resolution. Two social workers work side-by-side with teachers in classrooms to help children learn about cooperation and responsibility. They also provide one-on-one counseling.
Teachers receive coaching from the staff at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Despite coaching and a lot of in-class reading time, students have below average test scores in reading and in math. To improve reading, struggling readers participate in very structured reading programs such as Achieve3000 or Wilson.
The school uses the Everyday Math program and has three science teachers on staff. Teachers have worked to raise test scores and skills of children with special needs, and while this has resulted in a better progress report, it has meant less attention for high-achievers in the classroom. Top students may participate in morning enrichment classes and a Saturday Academy.
To mark the transition to middle school, students receive different colored uniforms (burgundy and khaki), lockers and new desks. One advantage of the middle school is that every classroom has two teachers, whether it has children with special needs or not. "We really see how it benefits the children," said Forbes.Eighth graders can take Algebra.
Every Friday there are mixed-age enrichment clubs, based on teachers passions, such as knitting, drama and sports. Lunch clubs are run by enthusiastic 18- to 24-year-old Americorp volunteers, who also run an after-school program and support literacy work in the classroom.
Space is somewhat limited. Ballroom dancing is held in the large library while a movement class takes place on the auditorium stage. The middle school will start with a basketball team and add sports as it grows.
Special education: There are many options; self-contained classes, team-teachingclasses, ASD Nest classrooms and seven general education classrooms.
Admissions: Almost all the incoming third graders come from PS 112, and some from PS 178 in Washington Heights. ASD Nest students are referred from the DOE. A social worker and cluster teachers evaluate these students to decide who is a good match for the program. (Lydie Raschka, November 2012; updated, school data, 2017))Read more