Get to know those working hard behind the scenes for Integrated Services.
More than ever before, the subject of mental health is being broached from all angles. Poudre School District Integrated Service staff are wholeheartedly accepting the challenge of helping students live a healthy lifestyle. A team of highly educated, experienced Integrated Services staff are hard at work, building relationships and advocating for students with emotional needs. One group working with students mental health needs are our School Social Workers, a dedicated group focused on understanding the whole students.
Lead Social Worker Derrick Searle is at the forefront of school social work. As a Northern Colorado native, Searle’s investment in the Fort Collins community goes deep. After receiving both a Bachelors and a Masters degrees in Social Work, Searle went on to earn a Masters degree in Education with administrator licensure from Colorado State University. He has worked for 7 of his 19 years as a social worker in PSD.
“It sounds cheesy but I wanted to make a difference,” shares Searle. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities for social workers. With 9 school social workers and 2 career coaches, each school in PSD is served. The goal of a social worker is helping people help themselves. They are advocates, encouragers as well as accountability. They are the people to notice and point out the good things students are doing no matter what size accomplishment that may be. They get to know students and what their struggles are. They work with students on understanding their emotions and how to regulate them. They look at the complete story of a student’s life and the best way to reach them.
Searle says there are things that ring true for all student. Behavior is a form of communication, whether it is conscious or subconscious. Student academics and emotions are deeply connected. Kids often ask for love in the most unlovable ways. Defiance is typically a result of stressors that underlie the behavior. Kids want to be good, they want to be loved and cared for and to have friends.
As a team, PSD mental health staff work passionately with a zero tolerance policy related to hurtful behavior, and work toward a better understanding of each individual. Social workers work together with administrators, school resource officers, counselors, deans and teachers on education and advocacy. Together they work to understand why a student is responding the way they are and what the deeper rooted cause may be. They are then able to provide support or a consequence to directly address the why of the problem not just the manifestation.
Derrick Searle says that Poudre High School, where he works, has adopted a great culture of inclusivity, openness to new intervention ideas and collaboration. In December of 2015 the PHS community put together a community event addressing mental health. PHS staff came together to address some heavy concerns facing students.
“There is something magical in the intersection of people connecting,” says Searle. This is why he, and his team of social workers have chosen a path of genuine investment into the lives of student in PSD.
Poudre School District Integrated Services Director: Sarah Belleau 2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521
We are so proud of the work being done in Poudre School District.
Lisa Hernandez, Lead BCBA,lead Autism Coach and SLP was awarded Employee of the Year for the City of Fort Collins Commission on Disabilities!
Poudre School District parent, Cari Brown, received the Mayor’s Award – Spirit of Fort Collins for the City of Fort Collins Commission on Disabilities for her work to support legislation for increased home supports for children with autism.
Linda Miller, Poudre School District parent, was recognized for her outstanding volunteerism, received the Mayor’s Award as the Volunteer of the Year for the City of Fort Collins Commission on Disabilities.
Also, congratulations go out to all of our Mayors Award Nominees:
Bryan Kiel, Poudre High School Assistant Principal and Integrated Services Case Manager recognized on behalf of Poudre High School; Brenda Pacior Carroll, Olander Elementary SLP and Gayna Jobe, Cooper Home Integrated Services Teacher.
The Integrated Service administrative team was asked what their favorite part of back to school time is…
“I enjoy seeing all the new (clean) outfits students wear with pride. Teachers are looking pretty good too. Classrooms have a fresh look. In general you can just feel lots of positive energy and schools are full of possibilities!”
– Renée Ostergren, Integrated Services Coach
“I love the smell of fresh, new, sharp crayons, the feel of fall starting to appear, and the buzz in classrooms as new relationships are being formed.” -Kara P. Harbison, Integrated Services Coordinator
“My favorite part of back to school is to see all the school teams working together to support all of our students. The teamwork is amazing!” – Tressa Evans, Integrated Services Behavior Coach/BCBA
“I live very near one of the High Schools. Every summer about the second week of August – I can hear the school band starting up practices. I love hearing the band director talking to the students – he is so positive. The music is fun to hear and gets better by the day. By the time school starts these students have been practicing twice a day for several weeks and they hit the ground ready to play and march! It is an awesome thing to see and hear!” -Romie Tobin PH.D., Integrated Services Coordinator
“My favorite part of “back to school” is watching and listening to enthusiastic staff prepare for their students. I also love watching students on the first day of class. Their energy, excitement, and visible love for their school is palpable and contagious!” – Sarah Belleau Director for Integrated Services
“Back to School” for me means eager faces entering the school building excited for a new school year, yet unsure of what the year will bring until new relationships are built and learning blossoms.” -Erin Coy, Integrated Services Coach
“The ‘back to school’ time is exciting as you get to know new people, catch up with how things have gone over the summer, anticipate the exciting new things to come for this year and create goals to accomplish this year!
An exciting time during the school day for everyone is recess! It is a perfect time for students to get in brain breaks and build friendships; it is also a great time to work with students and build relationships with students. Make sure to play with your students.” Cale Whicker, Integrated Services Coordinator.
Poudre School District Integrated Services Director: Sarah Belleau 2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521
The morning air is cooling and kids are lining up at bus stops, which means one thing… back to school time! Some of the earliest staff to return from summer rest and relaxation are administrators. Integrated Services is proud to welcome a new administrator to the team. Cale Whicker has joined Poudre School District as an Integrated Services Coordinator.
Cale comes to us from Centennial BOCES, in Greeley with an extensive educational background and special education experience. He began his journey at the young age of 13 working under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, helping students with autism. By 16, he helped out as a paraprofessional for students with severe autism in his small town in Alaska. With all of his experience working with students with special needs, it only seemed natural that Cale make a career in education, a fact that he says he tried hard to fight. “I come from four generations of teachers, so I really thought I wanted to do something else.” Call it destiny or simply working in your strengths, a career in education called his name.
After some time abroad in Sweden, Cale received his undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado in psychology with a minor in special education. He also earned his master’s degree from UNC in special education. In the words of Cale’s grandmother Margret Fautchald,”if you are not learning you are dying, so take every opportunity you have.” He took that to heart and received an additional master’s in education and human resources from Colorado State University. As if that wasn’t enough, he continued and acquired a certificate from UNC for special education director’s licensure.
Cale’s first school district was in Keansburg, Alaska at Hoff Elementary as a special education teacher focused on reading and behavior. After a time at the elementary school, Cale went on to work for a private company as a therapist. After that opportunity, Estes Park called his name and he took on a hybrid role as Director of Special Education as well as Elementary School Principal. Cale’s heart to change the way special education is viewed school wide lead him to work for two years as a second grade, general education teacher. His hope was to model how general education could facilitate and embrace children with disabilities. After a few years, he realized the best way to enact change was from an administrative level. Centennial BOCES in Greeley was the place he felt he was able to make a difference. At Centennial BOCES, Cale’s role was Assistant Director of Special Education. Not looking for a change, Cale felt settled in his role as Assistant Director. When a position as an Integrated Services Coordinator came up in the city he calls home he had to investigate further. While interviewing with PSD, the vision and mission of Integrated Services resonated deeply with him. Cale has made the transition to PSD with enthusiasm and is a delight to have around.
Poudre School District Integrated Services Director: Sarah Belleau 2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521
The halls were a buzz at Rocky Mountain High School. It signified the end of the school year coming and school check-out for students who were graduating the following weekend. I was invited to visit the Alternative Cooperative Education or ACE class and learn about gardens they were planting collaboratively with student council for the community. Instead of slowing down in anticipation of the end, RMHS teachers were not only continuing with their great work, but also starting new projects to teach job skills and how to give back to the community. I went into the day already completely impressed by the opportunities they provide for students and their future but I had no idea what a special culture they have created.
ACE at Rocky Mountain High School consists of many moving parts. There is an etching machine, where students make a variety of merchandise which they are able to sell for a profit; there is a concession stand, The Rock Stop, which students in the ACE program run and operate. The list of employment experiences goes on and on. There will be time to talk about all of the wonderful work and real life education opportunities within the program, but that will come at a later date. This article is focusing on the staff who create the amazing experiences for students at RMHS.
Through the many hallways of Rocky, tucked away you can hear the hum of an etching machine and fans. This particular day was filled with excitement for those that were moving on and a sigh of relief for those whose fate had been up in the air. In a classroom full of life I found the desks of Kim Nigro and Patti Haugen. It feels like visiting old friends, even though these are woman I have just met. They are beyond welcoming.
I had an opportunity to witness students coming and going, completing check out sheets which would release them from high school as they knew it. It felt like… a home. The busy day did not stop; work had to continue so that products would be on time and schedules would be kept but when students came to say goodbye work paused. Kim and Patti, as proud as though the students were their own children, gushed over each one who came through. It was sincere and loving. Students had found a home and people who loved them in a critical time between youth and young adulthood. Many who may have little support and encouragement at home came to this room, with these people, and found exactly what they were missing.
Kim pointed out a few young men whom she had known since they were in elementary school. Years ago, when the young men were in elementary school, Kim had been their teacher. Over the years Kim moved on to teach in the high school. The last of those K-5th graders she had once known were bringing sheets for her to sign, signaling the end of their time together. As Kim and Patti talked about their students, I could see their heartbreak for what some students had been through and pride for how far they had come. They beamed as they discussed each student. As students walked away Kim would say, “just keep moving forward, not back.” These simple words carried weight as students knew what she meant and with that left with smiles and two cheerleaders beckoning “we love you”.
When I eagerly accepted this position with Integrated Services, I did so because I believe Poudre School District has some of the finest programs, with teachers who care about students and their futures. Yet this day, I was blown away at how much that love for people drives these two individuals. Kim and Patti chose to finish the school year strong, giving all that they have to their kids. I hope with all of my heart that their students remember that day forever and when the time comes, they reference it as a time they were loved and valued, remembering it with the clearest details.
– Virginia Chevalier
“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|
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 area. 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’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 a 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.
Unlike 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 way 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!
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.
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)
Walking through the halls of O’Dea Core Knowledge School, you know there is something 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!
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 year. 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.