Meet Stacy Sidebottom from Fort Collins High School.

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High School teachers are so much more than just classroom teachers. They are mentors, cheerleaders and advocates for what a student’s future holds.  They are constantly looking toward the future.

Named after the town in which it resides, Fort Collins High School is no stranger to preparing for the future. Stacy Sidebottom, teacher in the program for students with autism, is a shining light for the students she works with. Her colleagues recognize her dedication and love for her students. Here is what a few had to say about her:

“Stacey… cares for her students.  She is little but mighty.  Stacey takes on the day’s challenges head on.  Every day, she strives to be a better teacher than she was the day before”.Sidebottom, Stacy2015

“Stacey’s enthusiasm and positive attitude creates a wonderful learning environment.”

“Stacey stays calm and looks ahead for her students.”

“Stacey always looking for the positives in students!  You’ll frequently hear her say “I just love that kid!” – She doesn’t make excuses for them; she rationalizes their behaviors and consequences, and is constantly modifying what will best serve that student.  And when a student is having a particularly good day, she occasionally surprises them with a quick walk to Sonic for a treat!

“Stacey… is passionate about data collection and uses it expertly to make decisions about learning plans for her students. She is one of the coaches of our Unified team and puts her heart into giving her students the most positive high school experience possible. Her patience and resiliency enable her to manage any situation.”

Who is Stacy Sidebottom? Here is her story:

“I grew up in Littleton, Colorado. I attended the University of Northern Colorado for my undergrad and received my degree in special education in 2011. I started working at Fort Collins High School the semester following graduation as a long term sub in the autism classroom. Following my long term sub position at Fort Collins High School I took another sub position as an autism teacher at O’Dea Elementary School. These experiences made me realize that I want to pursue a career in working with students with autism. I was hired full time as an autism teacher back at Fort Collins High School the following year.

Through my teaching experience, I gained interest in shaping behavior and teaching independent living skills. I am currently finishing my master’s degree in applied behavior analysis at Arizona State University and plan on pursing Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification after graduation. My favorite part of my job is witnessing my student’s grow and gain skills that will allow them to live a happier life.”

“Every child deserves a champion- an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” Rita Pierson.

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                 Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                                    2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Bacon Elementary’s Jake Neufeld

“Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”
– Chinese proverb

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What better way to highlight autism awareness than to introduce you to those leading the way in their Integrated Services special education programs for students with autism. With a ding from the classroom door, you enter a space that Jake Neufeld has cultivated as a safe learning place for both students and teachers at Bacon Elementary School. It doesn’t take but minutes to recognize the connection and care he has for each of his students. Here is his story:

“I’m originally from Canada but have lived here in Colorado for most of my life. I live here in Fort Collins with my wife Maddi.  I enjoy playing music, sports and reading. My wife and I enjoy spending time doing different outdoor activities in the mountains as well.

I received my undergrad degree at the University of Northern Colorado with a Bachelor’s in Special Education. I’m currently earning my Master’s at Arizona State University in Applied Behavior Analysis and am working towards BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) certification as well.

My favorite part of my job is seeing our students apply the skills they learn into real life situations. I also really love teaching behavior and communication not only to the students, but also explaining those concepts to the parents and families.”Neufeld, Jake2015

Integrated Service coach Erin Coy describes Mr. Neufeld as a “… strong, kind, and a consistent presence for his students.”

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                 Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                                    2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Meet Madeleine van Oppen from Boltz Middle School

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Puzzle pieces offer mystery. They are a small piece of a complex, larger picture. Standing alone, a puzzle piece is merely a possibility, but put into the context of a larger picture and it is beautiful. A puzzle is an insightful symbol for autism. A piece of the puzzle at Boltz Middle School is teacher Madeleine van Oppen. Her positivity and passion for her students sets the tone in her classroom – students are more than the sum of their disability. Integrated Services coach Erin Coy describes Madeleine as “a wonderful advocate for her students and her program”.

Here is Madeleine in her own words:

“My name is Madeleine van Oppen and I am one of the two teachers of the center based autism program at Boltz Middle School.  I enjoy dancing, spending time with family and my dog, baking, and participating in any outdoor activities with my friends.  I am originally from the Netherlands and moved to Fort Collins when I was in sixth grade. I have four brothers, three of whom still live in the Netherlands, and one who lives in Fort Collins as well. My parents live in Fort Collins, while my extended family all live in Europe. I moved back to the Netherlands when I graduated high school to attend the University of Amsterdam originally to pursue a future in dance (ballet, jazz/modern), but decided to come back to Fort Collins after my freshman year.

I enrolled at Colorado State University, shifted my focus and majored in Human Development and Family Studies. I got a job working as a care provider for children who had intellectual disabilities. I became involved in every volunteer program CSU had to offer, spending time with kids and adults with intellectual disabilities, including Special Needs Swim and TGIF. My senior year I became a research assistant for a professor who was studying developmental milestones in young kids with Autism.

Upon graduation, the principal and classroom teacher I interned with in college hired me as a special education paraprofessional. While working as a paraprofessional, I explored other career options. I worked as a class assistant for the Colorado Foundation of Conductive Education (an alternative therapy for kids with muscular disorders), as a nanny for a boy with special needs and as a private tutor. After two years of just working I decided I was sure I wanted to become a special education teacher and pursued my master’s in special education. While going to school I managed to keep working as a special education paraprofessional and also became a direct support associate for an adult with an intellectual disability to gain more experience in transitions to adulthood. I finished my degree with a  Special Education-Generalist from the University of Northern Colorado in December 2014.

van Oppen & Beach 2015I was hired as a teacher in the program at Boltz shortly thereafter and I absolutely love it here. Since then, the other autism teacher, Bonnie Beach, the ILS teacher Stacy Denham, paraprofessionals and myself have worked together to support all of our students with extensive needs as a team instead of as separate programs. What I love most about my job is that there is never a dull moment and not one day is ever like another. I love watching my students learn, have fun, laugh, and seeing them take pride in what they have learned.  We all have so much fun together, and students and staff really just work as one big team here.”

We are fortunate to have the educators we do in Poudre School District.

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                 Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                                    2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Get to know Bonnie Beach, Boltz Middle School.

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Middle School is not a dull place, and Boltz Middle School is no exception. It is a bustling place with a combination of energetic and sometimes low-key youth. Wrestling through the developmental angst of the preteen years is a story of the ages.   When you add special needs, such as autism to this it can create some interesting times during a middle schooler’s career.  Those who have found their way to Boltz Middle School are in great hands, though! This inventive, nurturing team goes above and beyond for their students.

The collaborative work being done for children with autism at Boltz Middle School has translated into a culture of inclusion and acceptance around the school. One teacher within the program for students with autism is Bonnie Beach. Her upbeat, gentle disposition sets her students at ease. Here is more about Bonnie:

“I grew up on a small cattle ranch on the eastern plains of Colorado in a tiny Beach, Bonnie 2015town called Matheson. I studied Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University and I earned my master’s degree from University of Colorado Colorado Springs in Special Education. Currently, I live in Loveland with my husband Bill, our cute little baby, Annie, and our two dogs, Emily and Brie.

 I love doing anything outdoors and singing along with the radio in the car. My favorite thing about my job is just about everything but if I had to pick I would say it is the kids for sure! I get to learn so much every day from the students I work with! They teach me how to try to always look at the world from the perspective of others.”

Integrated Service Coach Erin Coy had this to say about Bonnie, “Bonnie is a ray of sunshine and support for her students.”

“A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.” Author Unknown

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                 Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                                    2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Get to know Tressa Evans @ Bacon Elementary School.

“Sometimes real superheroes live in the hearts of small children fighting big battles.” 

-Anonymous

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There is something unique and special about early childhood special education. It is a place where a child experiences many firsts. It can be challenging and exciting often all in the same day. It is a place where students and families alongside teachers, navigate through what it means to have special needs in the context of the school environment. Early childhood special education is a place where achievements, no matter the size, are celebrated.

April 11 024Monday through Thursday morning, you will find the sweet sounds of little voices playing and learning in the early childhood special education class of Tressa Evans at Bacon Elementary School. While small in stature, her heart fills the room. Her fun yet steady approach with her students does not go unnoticed.

Here is Tressa Evans’ story: “I earned my Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Northern Colorado in 1998 and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in May of 2013.  I have taught in an early childhood special education classroom for the past 15 years and in an autism specific classroom for the past 8 years. I did my student teaching in Poudre School District under Sarah Belleau and then left the district for a few years. I came back in 2005 so my boys could receive their education in this amazing district.  I was Poudre School District’s Rotary Teacher of the Year in 2013.

Outside of school I have a wonderful husband of 20 years, Shawn and two Evans, Tressa 2015 3awesome boys, Aiden (14) and Avery (12). In my free time I love spending time with my family, riding my road bike, being outdoors and reading.  My favorite part of my job is watching the progress in students as they grow and learn. Sometimes having the privilege of hearing their first words and being a partner with parents on their journey as they enter school and as they support their children. I love helping to build their foundation!  As a Behavioral Consultant for the district I have recently gained experience in all grade levels and love supporting teachers in their learning about autism and providing them with supports for challenging behaviors in the classroom.”

Evans, Tress 2015“Tressa displays the finest qualities we look for in special education teacher.  She has passion for her students, partners with parents to help students progress in all environments, is highly motivated, looks for solutions all of the time, believes that data tells a story to help make change, is fun, creative, has a great sense of humor and shows that she loves her job!   It is a pleasure watching and working with Tressa!” Sarah Belleau, Director of Integrated Services for Poudre School District.

Thanks to Tressa Evans and her team, little ones at Bacon Elementary are given a new lease on life.

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                 Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                                    2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Autism Awareness Month

April 11 116As the world becomes more familiar with autism, huge strides are being made at an educational level. We are constantly learning and evolving in the ways we educate each child as the wonderful individual that they are. Leading the charge in Poudre School District are an amazing group of educators whose passion for teaching have lead them to programs designed to support students all over the spectrum.

“The strength of PSD’s research based programming for students with autism is evident when we look at the data related to students who have participated in a center based program in early childhood or elementary and then are able to attend their neighborhood school, with special education supports, by middle and high school.  We serve approximately 70 students in early childhood and elementary center based programs for students with autism using strong research based programming.  By middle school, a large percentage of the students are able to return to their neighborhood school with supports.  There are some students who continue to need intensive supports through a center based programs, which we of course continue to provide.  By high school, we have a smaller number who continue to need intensive supports.    We believe that early intervention is key and provide great research based intervention at these levels.  This continues on throughout the students time in PSD, though, whether in early childhood, elementary or secondary levels.” Sarah Belleau, director of Integrated Services (special education) for Poudre School District.puzzlw

In honor of autism awareness month we will be introducing you to some amazingpuzzle piece people who give their hearts to the children they serve each week. These teachers work with countless dedicated people to ensure each child is striving for their full potential, constantly pushing and growing. Follow along as we share their stories.