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Union meets educators’ needs with special ed workshops

Cara Metz

UFT Vice President for Special Education Carmen Alvarez (right) speaks at the session with (from left) Liza Ty of PS 138 in Manhattan, Eboni Williams of PS 4 at 853 in Brooklyn and Michelle Block of PS 146 in Manhattan.

Cara Metz

The first workshop, led by Dana Ashley (standing), from the DOE’s Strategies, Techniques, Options Prior to Placement (STOPP) program, focused on addressing challenging student behavior.

With the Department of Education’s implementation of citywide special education reform directing more special-needs students to their neighborhood schools, the UFT, in conjunction with the UFT Teacher Center, on Oct. 4 and 5 sponsored the first in a series of professional development workshops aimed at helping educators meet the academic, behavioral and social needs of the students they might encounter.

“The union believes that professional development is crucial to the success of any effort to move more children into less restrictive environments,” said UFT Vice President Carmen Alvarez in explaining the rationale for creating the Special Education Professional Development Institutes. “The overwhelming response we’ve had to these workshops shows the hunger among educators to learn more so they can teach children with learning and behavior challenges most effectively.”

She noted that the first workshop, on creating research-based, successful and positive school behavior systems, was oversubscribed in just three hours after being announced by email blast to special education teachers and chapter leaders. The union created two additional sessions on the same topic to meet the demand.

The two-day session, led by Dana Ashley, a senior staff specialist with District 75’s Strategies, Techniques, Options Prior to Placement (STOPP) program, allowed participants the space and time to work on helping to identify and resolve situations prompted by challenging behavior by a child with disabilities and developing skills to help instill behavioral change in students and de-escalate potential crises.

Alvarez said the workshop was also useful in addressing misbehavior among general education students who might otherwise be misdiagnosed as special-needs students for no other reason than educators misreading their behaviors.

“Given the DOE focus on test prep and math, the last thing the DOE pays attention to is behavior. Our goal is to critique and understand a wide range of children’s behaviors,” she said.

That’s something that attracted Staten Island Technical HS paraprofessional Margaret Taranto to the session.

“The class was all about positive behavior support and about how to put an intervention plan together,” said Taranto, who works with a child with autism. “The goal is to get in before a crisis happens. That means listening to students, asking them what’s the matter, why do they feel like they do? That’s an approach that is better for us and better for the child. That way neither of us gets frustrated.”

Taranto said that the workshop taught her new skills to deal with tough situations. “But what I also liked about the workshop was that it reaffirmed the value of many of the things I’ve already done,” she said.

To find out about upcoming workshops, check the event listings on the calendar.

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