Meet Jessica Smeins from O’Dea Core Knowledge Elementary School

“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank … but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.”

~ Forest Witcraft

Smein, Jessica (2) Many go through life without finding their “calling”. For those that are lucky enough to discover what makes their heart sing, it is often a long road to get there. Jessica Smeins from O’Dea Core Knowledge Elementary worked hard to make her passion a reality. With a warm, unruffled disposition, Jessica has jumped in with creativity and energy, creating an environment of respect and appreciation.

Here is her story:

“I am Jessica Smeins and I am from Carbondale, CO. My mom, dad, and sister all live in the Carbondale area and I enjoy visiting them in the beautiful mountain Smein, Jessica 2015area. As I grew up in such a beautiful place, my favorite activities are mostly outdoor oriented. I enjoy hiking, playing with my dogs, biking, and just being outside. Luckily, Fort Collins is an outdoor town and a good place to pursue my higher education. I moved to Fort Collins to attend CSU for Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies. After graduating in 2010, I worked in an autism program in a nearby city and found the job that I was meant to do. The next year, I enrolled at UNC to obtain my teaching license and Master’s in Special Education. While going to school, I worked at O’Dea Elementary School in the autism program as a paraprofessional. When I graduated from UNC, I was so lucky to get a job in Poudre School District as a teacher in O’Dea’s autism program. My favorite part of my job is seeing the kids smiling faces every day. I enjoy watching my students learn new information and the excitement they express when they make a connection to the material.”

“Jess has stepped into her position this year with a sense of grace and gusto.  She is always looking into new ways to work with our students with autism and is always willing to try something new if she thinks it will positively impact our students.” O’Dea Elementary Principal Laurie Corso.

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

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A day in the life of a literacy coach.

Spring 2015 1039     Poudre School District’s Integrated Services Literacy Achievement for All Grant provides multi-sensory literacy training for general and special education staff. Literacy coaches Janet Klein, Julie Woolner and Teresa Ashton offer different formats for training psychologists, interventionists, para professionals, and general and special education teachers.

On a spring day in May, coaches Woolner, Ashton and Klein challenge a group of educators to think about reading in a multi-sensory way. Through fun activities as well as instruction, these coaches have created a way to share strategies that they have found success. The literacy coaches offer tools for topics such as language comprehension, word recognition, and phonological awareness, coding syllables and reading strategies.

LETRS or Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling training is aSpring 2015 1086 professional development course developed by literacy expert Louisa C. Moats. Literacy coaches Julie Klein, Julie Woolner and Teresa Ashton have become certified as LETRS instructors in the modules 1 – 6 and now will be able to offer professional development training, in collaboration with the ELA and Curriculum Departments, throughout the school year and summer to educators in Poudre School District.

Spring 2015 1041Unlike many trainings, the LETRS training has been designed to be a continuous learning opportunity. With multiple professional development sessions and summer modules, teachers are able to build on and expand their repertoire for helping students become successful.

The collaborative trainings are an interesting, inspiring Spring 2015 1080way to disseminate  information in an interactive, way that is sure to impact student accomplishments. Teresa Ashton is a calm, supportive presence. Janet Klein encourages the educators through information focused on who it is at the center of everything we do… the students. Julie Woolner’s smile encourages teachers to participate and truly engage to optimize the opportunity. The group together creates an amazing trifecta that Poudre School District Integrated Services is truly lucky to have!Spring 2015 1085Spring 2015 1042Spring 2015 1040

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

Jill Cottingham from Bacon Elementary School

There are many layer to teaching in special education. There are IEPs for each and every student; there is organizing and managing paraprofessionals who are the eye, ears and hands that care for students; some have additional responsibilities of being certified coaches in areas such as behavior or literacy for example; most important there are students with their individual personalities and needs. The best teachers are passionate about their jobs and care deeply for their students. We are lucky in Poudre School District Integrated Services to have teachers who push students to reach their full potential, being a cheerleader for them every step of the way.

Cottingham, Jill 2015(1)Nestled in a hallway between two grade levels at Bacon Elementary School is the energetic classroom of Jill Cottingham. When praised for the work she is doing with her students she is quick to shift attention from herself and share the praise with all her colleagues in the Poudre School District autism program. Her care and enthusiasm for her students creates a warm, welcome environment. Here is more about Jill:

Jill holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Pittsburgh and is licensed in both general and special education.  Her general education licensure was obtained from the University of Colorado, Boulder and her special education license and master’s degree in special education is from the University of Northern Colorado.   She also has a board certification as a Behavior Analyst (BCBA) from the University of Colorado, Denver.

“I moved to Colorado after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA and I hold a license in both general and special education. I lived in Boulder for 9 years at which time I received my General Education license, before moving to Fort Collins with the intention of being an Elementary Education teacher.

I joined the team at O’Dea as a paraprofessional in the autism program simply to “get my foot in the door” in PSD and fell in love with students with autism spectrum disorder and the amazing educational programming that we provide to that population in our district.  I worked there for 2 years while going back to school for my Master’s degree and Special Education license. I moved to Bacon Elementary to open the 2nd site-based program for kiddos with autism in our district.  I have been at Bacon ever since (about 11 years).

I live in Poudre Canyon with my husband, Kevin; daughter, Molly; and Grady (our black lab).  My daughter is currently a kindergarten student at CLPE.  I love teaching and look forward to working with the kids each day.  Being a parent of a student in this district, I want my child to have a teacher who sees her strengths, works through her challenges…and continues to cheer her on no matter what the days or lessons might bring.  As a teacher, I try to be that for my students and their families.   As Applied Behavior Analysis is considered best practice for providing services for kiddos with autism, I received my board certification as a behavior analyst, to continue to grow as an educator. I also have a passion for behavior in general and helping kiddos with that obstacle in particular, when/if it may present as one.  In addition teaching at Bacon, I also do some behavior consulting in various schools and programs throughout the district.”

“Jill is an active member of a student team, with a focus on growth and independence.” (Erin Coy, Integrated Service coach)

Cottingham, Jill (2)

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

Focus on Literacy.

Children are the lifeblood of the future. Their bright eyes and open hearts should inspire us all.  Children are so excited about learning all things from the time they are born.  After language begins to develop, children become interested in reading and writing.  Reading and writing are subjects that everyone has done. For some, learning comes seamlessly but for others, time and care must be taken.

In every school district there will be children who struggle to follow along with the curriculum put in place. How we handle those challenges is the bigger question. Teachers are constantly brainstorming ways to help their students become successful, but time is limited.  In Poudre School District the Director of Integrated Services (special education), Sarah Belleau, recognized the need to give both students and teachers strategize and a helping hand. All of the good intentions in the world must be supported, and the truth of the matter is that often this comes with a monetary cost.

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

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

In 2013, Sarah Belleau applied through the Colorado Department of Education for a grant focused on intervention for students with disabilities in literacy areas. The Literacy Achievement for All Grant award to Poudre School District was a little over one million dollars, to spread the course of 4 years. It allowed the hiring of 3 literacy coaches, Teresa Ashton, Janet Klein and Julie Woolner.

Woolner, JulieJulie Woolner has worked in the field of special education since 1997.  She has taught students with various disabilities from Kindergarten through Sixth Grade, and is currently a Literacy Coach with Poudre School District. She has a Masters Degree in Special Education.

Spring 2015 1091Teresa Ashton is an instructional literacy coach in Poudre School District. She supports special education teachers in implementing research-based practices, conducting progress monitoring and analyzing data to guide decision-making. During her 20 years in education, Teresa has taught students with disabilities in preschool through 12th grade, as well as middle and high school students in reading and language arts. Teresa holds a master’s degree from Valdosta State University in Special Education, and is currently working towards earning an education specialist degree from University of Northern Colorado in Administration.

Klein, Janet2 Janet Klein is a Speech-Language Pathologist and has been practicing in this field for nearly 25 years. Additional, she has certifications and licensures in the areas of Secondary English-Language Arts and Special Education. She has served students in the hospital setting at Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California and The Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado as well as the public school setting since 1987. She has provided speech and language services to students, Pre-k through middle school for the past 25 years.

The grant’s intent is to increase achievement for students with disabilities in language, reading and writing and to improve outcomes for students with disabilities in Northern Colorado through shared professional development opportunities. The students primarily targeted by the grant are students pre-k through 5th grade supported under and IDEA 2004 identified with a disability in the areas of speech/language, specific learning disability, physical disability or serious emotional disability.

The role of coaching consists of but is not limited to:

– Collaborating with principals, Integrated Services staff, and general education staff;

– Guide staff with embedding their training into delivery of instruction;

– Provide support of research based instructional strategies through training and modeling;

– Provide coaching for effective inclusion of students with disabilities into general education;

–  Assist with design and implementation of professional development in literacy instruction for Pre-K through 5th grade staff;

– Facilitate instructional decision making through the examination of progress monitoring data.

Data collection and analysis is important and sometimes underemphasized piece of education. Critics equate it to turning education into a business. On the contrary, by collecting data and learning where emphasis should be placed, educators are able to focus in on areas specific to students. Data collection to inform instruction is a huge part of how literacy coaches work with general and special education teachers. It is also a part of the accountability to the Colorado Department of Education.

“It’s been an amazing experience personally. I feel so fortunate to be in the position and so lucky to make a difference with students and teachers. (It is) really fun.” Janet Klein.

In the 2 years of its existence Ashton, Klein and Woolner have done an exceptional job creating a program that is supportive, educational and resourceful. Their commitment to teachers and students is contagious.

Dive into a good book!

As the school year comes to a close, you may be making plans for the summer; vacation, relaxation or time at the pool. Whatever you do, remember to exercise your mind. A great way to do that is with reading.

Here are some favorites from Poudre School District Integrated Services literacy coaches Julie Woolner and Teresa Ashton:

Teresa Ashton recommends:

Books to read with toddlers                  

Love You Forever by Robert MuncshLoveYouForever

I Love You the Purplest by Barbara Joosseiloveyouthepurplest

Books for elementary school kidsjuniebjones2

Junie B Jones by Barbara ParkE.B.-White-Charlottes-Web

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Books for intermediate grades

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinneydiaryofawimpykid

Books for middle school kidsthebully

The Bully by Paul Langen

Books for high school kids

old-man-and-the-sea-reviewThe Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsHunger Games Trilogy

The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway

Books for adults

The Energy Bus by Jon Gordontheenergybus

thegirlwiththedragontatooThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Julie Woolner recommends:

      Books For Kids

ish Ish by Peter Reynolds

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthalspoon

littlepeaLittle Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankardgrumpybird

ericcarlAny Eric Carle book

Books For Young Adults

watershipdownLittle House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilderlittlehouseontheprairie

Watership Down by Richard Adams

harry-potter-series1627The Hunger Games  series by Suzanne Collins

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Leeto-kill-a-mockingbird-by-harper-lee-profile

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

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

Meet Megan Conahan from O’Dea Core Knowledge School

April 11 100

Walking through the halls of O’Dea Core Knowledge School, you know there is April 11 108something different … something special about the community. The hallways are sprinkled with blue puzzle pieces. On the puzzle pieces are messages of encouragement written by the small hands that fill the school. To the students and staff of O’Dea Elementary, autism is a word free of any stigma. It is a word that may be used to help understand and appreciate their peer sitting at their table or a friend from the playground.  Odea Elementary is a place that has a smile around every corner. In the classroom of Megan Conahan, there are an abundance of smiles! “Megan is a bright ball of light at O’Dea!  She brings such a level of enthusiasm and love to her position working with our children with autism.  There are days that can be very challenging, yet Megan continues to bring positive energy to her work. ” Says O’Dea principal Laurie Corso.

Here is Megan Conahan’s story

“My background as a special education autism teacher started 6 years ago when I applied at O’Dea after subbing there several times. The team felt I would be a great fit and I felt that I had finally found my calling in life! I have been in the same classroom ever since and I absolutely love this population of students and know that this is where I am supposed to be! O’Dea is amazing and anyone who has worked at O’Dea will tell you that nothing compares! It is a one of a kind environment with an incredible climate and culture led by an outstanding leader, Principal Laurie Corso. The way Ms. Corso embeds our autism program within our school culture, is thoughtful, creative and purposeful. This school is amazing because of our sense for community and motto that each student is all of our students!Conahan, Megan 2015

My educational background started with working for B.A.S.E. Camp for 8 years while attending school at UNC to become a teacher! I originally earned my bachelors in general education K-5 and my masters after that in special education. Working with students with severe needs autism while subbing, I knew that my heart and spirit were with these students specifically. This was the career path that I had always dreamed of having! I continue to love my students and the job I do each day and know that my choice to work in special education, was the most meaningful life decision I have made!

My interests are always changing and evolving. I am an avid crafts person and I absolutely love to make jewelry, especially fused glass jewelry. Making anything out of fused glass is my passion and is a hobby I do a lot in the summer to enjoy my time off with my family. I love to make plates, spoon rests, rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, jewels, beaded jewelry, holiday crafts, etc….. I enjoy spending time with my daughter and relaxing together at home with our little family! My daughter and I absolutely love to swim together and it is amazing to see her passion for water develop just like her mommy has always enjoyed!

My favorite part of my job is getting to work with the same students, every single April 11 099year. I always say that I am the lucky teacher because I get these students year after year after year, sometime for 6 years even. I get to develop a rapport with these students on a completely different level than other teachers have the opportunity to develop! I also am lucky in the fact that I get to develop close relationships with the parents of my students because I work alongside them each year that I have their student in my class. I value the parents’ input and involvement in their students’ educational evolution and see the parents as a huge part of the team as a whole. The parents are the ones who know their child the best and getting their input and ideas in educational decisions moving forward is key to keeping the value of the whole child increasing positively!”

This outstanding woman exemplifies the care and commitment O’Dea Core Knowledge Elementary has for their students.

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