Bethlehem Central School District • Location: Bethlehem, NY
Leaders: Eileen Pasquini
Technology accommodations help build literacy skills for students with disabilities and have inspired teachers to create new digital learning environments at Bethlehem Central School District.
Bethlehem Central School District, NY Implements Student-Centric Learning Environments … Assistive Technologies Help Pave the Way!
Educators at Bethlehem Central School District, NY are thinking outside the box to develop new ways for their students to succeed far beyond the classroom. Today teachers deliver required curriculum instruction through accessible formats using assistive technology, funded through ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These technology accommodations help to build literacy skills for students with disabilities and have inspired teachers to create new digital learning environments.
Eileen Pasquini, Assistive Technology Specialist, says the standard way of teaching doesn’t work for students with disabilities. She trains special and general education teachers to infuse assistive technologies into their instruction. Students with disabilities receive assignments in accessible formats and use helpful reading and writing tools to read eBooks with audio text-to-speech and improve grammar, vocabulary and spelling.
In 2009, Eileen attended a Don Johnston Learning Summit with Rita Levay, her Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Laura Heffernan, an elementary school principal, and Kathleen Johnston, chairperson for students with disabilities. “We saw great potential in using assistive technologies,” said Eileen. “We learned how to build an assistive technology infrastructure to serve a broad range of student needs. Mrs. Heffernan recognized how assistive technology could play a key role to move students from level 2’s and 3’s to 4’s on standardized testing.” The group arrived back to their school district inspired to talk with department leaders about these tools and to move forward on student improvement plans.
Technology Delivers Instruction
Bethlehem purchased unlimited site licenses of reading and writing accommodations Co:Writer, Read:OutLoud and Write:OutLoud. They installed the software on their network. “Purchasing unlimited licenses helped me jump through 10 hurdles,” said Eileen. “It saved me time on installation and paperwork. No matter how good technology is, if it’s not part of daily instruction, students don’t get the real benefit.”
Eileen’s first task was to help teachers take a global look at how they delivered instruction. They reviewed their teaching approaches and discussed UDL (Universal Design for Learning) strategies of how students learn best. The team began to notice changes in students in general inclusion settings after special and general education teachers got together to use Co:Writer, the word prediction writing accommodation. This writing tool stood out to Eileen as an ‘easy-to-use’ technology that could have immediate impact on students’ vocabulary and spelling. “Teachers loved the Word Bank,” she said. “They saw how Co:Writer could unblock common writing barriers that students with learning challenges face.”
Watch this short video of Mrs. McCurdy, an elementary teacher at Bethlehem Central and her 4th grade student, as they demonstrate how assistive technology tools have made a difference in Ryland’s daily writing skills.
Another student, Conner, a cooperative, but frustrated third grader, also labored when he wrote. He had difficulty taking tests and organizing his thoughts. His handwriting was illegible. His teachers couldn’t read what he wrote. “Using Co:Writer, Conner is an entirely different student,” said Eileen, “and quite productive.” His grandparents embraced using the software at home too. Now, he writes his own papers and exchanges notes with his teachers using the tool.
Next, teachers tried Read:OutLoud, an accessible text reader, with high school students who used the software to read eBooks and access the Internet. They hear digital content read aloud to experience a multi-sensory (audio and visual) learning environment and use built-in reading comprehension templates to do research, collect facts and write notes. Each student collected information, saved their important details in an outline, bookmarked websites and cited their findings with a bibliography tool, all in one software tool.
One to One Pilot Project
Director, Rita Levay wanted to keep the energy going with teachers. She sees definite changes among teachers who are using assistive technology to modify instruction. She implemented a one-to-one computer pilot in the elementary, middle and high schools to emphasize professional development. Today, through her leadership, the district has created several information sessions and workshops for teachers to learn how assistive technology can be used for instruction, intervention and remediation.
Take-Home Software Enables Anytime Learning in Family Workshops
For the local community, Bethlehem established a 3-part family workshop to support students who are at risk of failing. Teachers and specialists work with families to address students’ literacy and behavioral issues. Through the workshop, a school to home connection was built. Each participating family receives the assistive technology software to use at home through ‘take-home rights’ included in the unlimited license. Families can request the software through the district website and hundreds of families have signed up.
Tyson, a 5th grader, who attended the workshop had writing challenges and had shut down during the learning day. He now writes stories using Co:Writer and has become more active. His teachers and parents noted his renewed excitement to complete assignments on time using the assistive technology tools.
Educators at Bethlehem Central School District, including Jody Monroe, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and Sal DeAngelo, the Director of Technology are working together to create student-centric learning environments. Through their creative ideas, collaborative teamwork and assistive technologies, they are leading a new charge. “Assistive technologies helped our teachers embrace new ways to deliver instruction and to make our curriculum accessible,” said Eileen. “The tools revived us. Students became interactive and digital learners. Our district achieved our plan to increase family involvement. We’re feeling very successful going into the new school year!”