Boulder Valley School District

Thinking outside the box

student learning at home
Carolyn Nohe

Finding ways to engage all students in Home Learning

What first comes to mind when you think about home learning? Is it West African dance? Arts of the world? Birds around the community? The Special Ed staff at Centaurus High has been thinking outside the box, testing and modifying ideas to engage all students in home learning, especially those in its Autism and Multi  Intensive Learning Centers (ILC) and Intensive Center for Affective Needs (ICAN) programs.

“It's nice to see all of the out of the box thinking the special ed staff has done and will continue to do,” says Dennis Rastatter, BVSD Executive Director of Special Education. “To see teachers pull out a guitar,  sing songs with kids, dance with kids, and do different types of activities that maybe in a traditional school setting they might not have done has been great.”

At Centaurus, Autism ILC Teacher Troy Yanel says the support of all the special ed staff has been amazing. The multidisciplinary team, comprised of paras, teachers, occupational, speech, and behavior therapists have all come together to lead the programming at the school.

“Not all programming fits all kids”, says Yanel, who works with kids that span a wide range of academic levels. The most important thing, both in the school building, and especially in this new virtual learning, is to try new things, Yanel says.

Julie Marshall, parent of Sarah Marshall, a sophomore at Centaurus and a student in the Autism ILC, has

student learning from home

Centaurus sophomore Sarah Marshall learning comfortably from her couch at home.

been impressed by the team of staff at Centaurus who have been creative and adaptable in finding ways to engage Sarah in learning. 

“The team has worked with Sarah on all her goals around communication and following directions, while also being open and bringing in things like music and dance, and finding rewards that work for her like being on her swing,” says Marshall. “I see they really care about Sarah and see her as a whole person.”

At Centaurus, staff have broadened opportunities to engage community members in home learning. This  week, they are hosting a Bird Talk, led by a member of the Lafayette Parks and Open Space team. They have also launched a weekly virtual concert series, starting with staff at Centaurus and community musicians which the staff has loved to do and the kids have loved to watch.

 “In virtual learning classrooms using music, learning through songs and creative arts to engage students is what you need to do. You can’t just hold up cards and ask kids to point to things. You need to really try to think outside the box and get them engaged,” says Yanel.

Partnerships with Families

As with all families during home learning, a lot of responsibility lies with parents and the special ed staff has been especially aware of this.

“We are doing our best to support parents during this difficult time, not to become an additional stressor,” says Rastatter.

Marshall explains that a silver lining of home learning is that she has gotten a “front row seat to school life” that she wouldn’t have had otherwise and have been able to be fully engaged with her daughter’s teachers and therapists in “true collaboration.”

Staff have also noted that one of the bright spots of home learning is the partnership between families and schools. The relationships have actually improved and grown due to the required collaboration during home learning, says Rastatter.

Yanel shares those sentiments and says that being able to see students in their home environments has allowed them to better support their students in developing their skills. In the Marshall household, having a team connect virtually into their home has enabled them to establish consistent routines like handwashing and teeth brushing that wouldn’t have been harder without the reinforcement and support of staff.

Says Marshall, “I feel very supported and valued by our team. Even through the challenges and hurdles, everyone has always been helpful and encouraging, lifting up my spirits.”


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