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

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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

Meet Stacy Sidebottom from Fort Collins High School.

April 11 089

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

Neufeld, Jake2.2015

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

vanOppen2015

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.

Beach, Bonnie 2015 2 (make)

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

oreo game

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.