April 13 – Understanding Difficult Behavior of Your Child (workshop)

How functional behavior analysis empowers you to help your child be their best self

6:30-7:30pm Wednesday, April 13 on Zoom

Special needs children are often labeled “oppositional defiant” or “troubled,” but starting from the basic assumption that all children want to “be good,” functional behavior analysis asks the question: “What need is not being met, which causes a child to act out?” Whether you are a parent/caregiver or an educator learn about

  • The four basic drivers that motivate difficult behavior
  • How to figure out what need a child’s behavior is communicating
  • Strategies to help a child get what they need in a socially appropriate way
  • When to ask for a functional behavior assessment at school and what it includes

From our speaker Craig Estee, M.Ed, BCBA, LABA, Special Educator, Behavior Analyst for ASD in Cambridge Public Schools, learn a science-based approach for getting to the root cause of difficult behaviors so that you can create the environment that will let your child be their best self.

March 17 Workshop: Practical Strategies Teach Executive Functioning Skills (Sarah Ward)

What are executive functioning skills? They are mental skills we use to pay attention, to organize and plan tasks and materials, to start tasks and stay focused on them, to manage emotions and be flexible, and to keep track of what we are doing.   2022-03-17-Sarah-Ward-SEPAC-flyer Cambridge SEPAC is excited to welcome executive functioning skills guru Sarah Ward to speak 7-9pm on March 17, 2022 on Zoom. Register to get the Zoom link at: https://bit.ly/2022-03-17-SEPAC-register If your younger child has trouble following a sequence of instructions, or if your older child has trouble starting, completing and turning in assignments on time, they are struggling with executive functioning skills. In this practical strategies seminar by executive functioning skills guru Sarah Ward, caregivers will learn:
  • What the executive function skills are and how they affect academic and personal performance
  • How to help children develop executive function skills through everyday activities.
  • To help children learn to initiate tasks, follow routines, transition between tasks and think in an organized way and encourage self-initiative to manage homework and tasks
  • To help students understand time demands and internally feel the sweep of time to focus and complete tasks in allotted time frames.
  • To show students how to plan and complete homework, tasks and chores with less supervision and fewer prompts.
Read full presentation summary here

About the Speaker

Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC/SLP has over 25 years of experience in diagnostic evaluations and treatment of executive dysfunction.  Ms. Ward holds a faculty appointment at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions. Sarah is an internationally recognized expert on executive function and presents seminars and workshops on the programs and strategies she has developed with her Co-Director Kristen Jacobsen. Their 360 Thinking Executive Function Program received the Innovative Promising Practices Award from the National Organization CHADD. She has presented to and consulted with over 1600 public and private schools in the United States, Canada and Europe.

11/18/21 Understanding Your Child’s IEP Workshop

What it Involves and the Parent/Caregiver Role

Who: Parents/caregivers of children with special needs, or if you suspect that your child has special needs
When: 6-8pm Thursday, November 18, 2021 
How: Register to get the Zoom link at http://bit.ly/2021-11-18-sepac
What: Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) presents a free workshop about the Individualized Education Program (IEP) document, its development, the breakdown of each section and understanding how the document will support a student, and what the parents’ role is in shaping the IEP.

Topics covered:

  • Why the IEP is important and who is eligible for an IEP
  • How the IEP is developed for your child
  • The importance of the Parent Concern Statement
  • Description of the various IEP sections: their purpose and significance
  • Differences between accommodations and modifications

Questions? Contact Zuleka Queen-Postell, zqueen-postell@cpsd.us

SEPAC City Council Candidate Forums (Oct 26, 2021)

SEPAC held two forums with City Council candidates. Sumbul Siddiqui who was unable to attend is sending us her responses to the forum questions which we will post below when we receive them.

Session 1 candidates were: Theodora Skeadas, Alanna Mallon, Joe McGuirk, Robert Ekstut, Quinton Zondervan, Patty Nolan, and Nicola Williams (55 min 50 seconds)

Session 2 candidates were: Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, Burhan Azeem, Marc McGovern, Frantz Pierre, Tonia Hicks (camera unavailable due to Internet bandwidth issues) 42 min.

Candidates were asked to respond to the three questions below.

  1. Federal and state civil rights, disability and education laws require that students with disabilities are provided equitable access to out-of-school time and community activities. This includes having adequate, appropriate support so that disabled children can participate in a meaningful way. Insufficient Monday-to-Friday programming impacts families; caregivers may not be able to work and students don’t receive the multiple benefits that involvement in social and recreational activities provides.  The city has been chronically underfunding out-of-school-time programs that support students with disabilities. Some of the challenges families face are as follows: 
    1. Participation of children on IEPs delayed as the city’s Inclusion Initiative is extremely understaffed to evaluate the support needed (one person for the whole city)
    2. Difficulty hiring enough inclusion facilitators to meet the demand (e.g., pay is too low). Some students are never included and “age-out” at 14.
    3. Some families cannot participate because transportation home is unavailable for non-CPSD programs.
    4. Currently the City of Cambridge only offers Saturday programming for the children with the greatest needs.  How do we ensure that those children are provided programming after the school day Monday – Friday as well.

How do you reimagine Monday-to-Friday out-of-school time programs that will serve all of our special needs students?

  1. The vocational options at CRLS need to be upgraded, updated, expanded, and modified to serve the needs of students with disabilities. How will you collaborate with the school committee, and use all relevant city resources and departments (e.g., for internships) to strengthen vocational programming?
  1. The City has built a “Universal Design Playground” in Danehy Park. But presently, even though there is a city-wide “Healthy Parks and Playgrounds Initiative” some children with disabilities cannot safely use playgrounds throughout Cambridge. How will you ensure that all city playgrounds, structures, and events are accessible to children with disabilities?

Watch the SEPAC School Committee Candidate Forum from October 20, 2021 (82 minutes)

Each candidate was given 2 minutes to respond to these four questions below:

  1. Civil rights law and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act require that students with disabilities be full participants in the life of the school and have equitable access to out of school time and community activities.  We hear from many parents that this is not currently happening in Cambridge.  How will you address this?
  2. The Vision Statement for the district says that “The Cambridge Public Schools, in partnership with our families and community, will provide all students with rigorous, joyful, and culturally responsive learning as well as the social, emotional, and academic supports each student needs to achieve their goals and post-secondary success as engaged community members.”  However, by 5th grade, 85% of students with disabilities are reading below grade level; and have the greatest achievement gap among all groups.   What will you change and/or add to eliminate this disparity as well as close the achievement gap for all groups.
  3. The school district has an obligation to ensure that all students with disabilities leave school with the ability to reach their full potential including their adult goals and dreams, not only in education, but in work, life, and community involvement.   The district has currently not been meeting this requirement for all students.  How would you address this, including making improvements in our vocational programming? 
  4.  Students with disabilities have a right to be in the least restrictive environment and the majority of students with disabilities are in general education classrooms.  Teachers seldom receive specific formal education which would prepare them to teach students with disabilities.  What would you do to ensure that teachers are equipped to adjust or differentiate their instruction in order to meet each of their students’ needs.

Follow up for Executive Function Workshop for Elementary Families

On December 3rd, many caregivers attended our workshop: An Introduction of Executive Function for Elementary Families. As a follow-up, we have provided the slide deck, video, and the Q&A from the workshop. 

  • Google slide deck from the workshop (also attached as a PDF) 
  • Video Presentation (Presented by Heather Francis, Lead Teacher for Special Start) 
  • Questions and Answers from the 1-hour workshop (see attachment) 

We will post all of these resources on the OSS Website, CPSD Family & Engagement website, and SE-PAC website. 
Homework: For the next few weeks, please incorporate some of these strategies Heather Francis presented on Thursday. Visit our Q&A document for more information. 

  1. Set up a regular routine (Visit this link for examples.) 
  2. Use a timer to help students stay focused while completing assignments.
  3. Reflect with your child during meal times 

Upcoming Events: Our next overview session will be held on Thursday, December 17, 2020, from 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. This will be an Introduction to Executive Function for Secondary Families (Grades 6-12). We will send a reminder email and zoom link two days prior to the meeting. 
Thank you,
Desi Campbell 

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month

On Wednesday, October 21st at 7pm, we will host a Virtual Listening Party and discuss APM’s Educate Podcast episode, “What the Words Say: Many kids struggle with reading – and children of color are far less likely to get the help they need.”  Please email cambridgesepac@gmail.com for the Zoom link.

Thank You, Mayor Siddiqui!

Cambridge SEPAC would like to voice our gratitude to Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and the Cambridge City Council for Lighting Up City Hall Red for Dyslexia Awareness Month from October 13-16th. Click here to read her proclamation >

Our Community Can Do Better

Dyslexia is the most prevalent learning challenge, with nearly 1 in 5 students experiencing difficulties learning how to read.  In Cambridge in 2019, 53% of African American or Black students and 59% of Students with Disabilities did not meet expectations on their Grade 3 English Language Arts MCAS as compared to just 20% of White and Asian students.  Our community must and can do better.

We are eager to partner with Cambridge Public Schools in applying what we have learned about brain science and the science of reading to close these persistent gaps, which disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and other students of color (BIPOC).  

Learn more – videos

Statement from the Leadership Team of the Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council

Dear Madam Mayor, School Committee members, and Superintendent Salim,

Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council is an all-volunteer group of Cambridge parents and caregivers working to improve special education and general education practices with particular attention to the needs of black and brown scholars with disabilities and special needs in our community. Our guiding principle is that decisions must be made based on the needs of the child, not the availability of programs or resources.

We want to begin our comment by saying thank you for basing your latest proposal on the needs of our scholars and community, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all model. Your new proposal is a significant improvement and we can see that you have been listening. 

On order #20-204, parents of scholars with disabilities have a range of opinions on standardized testing. The core mission of Cambridge SE-PAC is to focus on the needs of students and to demand accountability for ensuring they are learning to their greatest capacity.  

Under current conditions, we are united in a belief that standardized testing in Spring 2021 would place undue burden and stress on students and teachers alike.

However, our students — particularly students of color with disabilities — are most at risk for being left behind during this pandemic and we demand that CPS adopt an alternative assessment that is reliable, transparent and family-friendly. CPS must commit to improving practices for sharing information about how our students are doing in relation to grade level standards.

We have repeatedly asked the district to adopt the iReady system, which is used in charter schools and private schools to share real-time data on student learning between teachers and families. The system is more timely and more family-friendly than the MCAS, and our students with disabilities in charter schools find it easier to demonstrate their learning. This would replace the district’s use of FAST assessments and make student learning data fully transparent.

Statewide accountability measures should not be discarded until appropriate and transparent in-house measures are in place to ensure that parents and families understand how our students are doing during this difficult time, such as the iReady System. We have recommended adoption of iReady in writing, in public testimony, and in meetings with the Superintendent and Office of Student Services. If the CEA is serious about finding an alternative to the MCAS, we call on you to be allies to our students by investigating and publicly supporting this measure.

On #20-209, understanding that being outdoors reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19, we remind our community that the needs of all students must be considered in this and any other procedural change. Specifically, there are a number of medical conditions that would result in the exclusion of students if outdoor learning were to take place during certain New England weather. For instance even if warm clothing were provided on cold days, many conditions such as sickle cell anemia, asthma, and allergies which are prevalent in communities of color would be exacerbated, compromising immune systems further. Please keep in mind that some of our teachers and staff also suffer from these conditions. 

In addition, some students with special needs have a tendency to bolt away from their classroom and therefore would be unable to safely participate in outdoor learning without added adult supervision. Finally, the very common issue of inattention among students with disabilities should be proactively taken into account by ensuring that learning activities and curricula support students who may be easily distracted in the less-controlled outdoor environment.

With all of this said, there are also benefits for many students with disabilities to spending more time outdoors and specific classrooms or groups of students who may be able to adopt this measure without a problem. It is our role and responsibility to ensure that any course of action under consideration keeps in mind the needs of students with disability from the outset, and not as an afterthought.

We support the spirit of 20-205. In spirit, this order would provide parents and caregivers with greater transparency about children’s learning progress. Research shows that clear communication with families about what students are expected to know, and how students are progressing, is an important strategy for improving student achievement.

Under conditions of remote learning, this type of transparency and collaboration is especially important. Whether the district develops its own means for communicating student progress on “power standards,” or adopts the iReady system as we have repeatedly recommended,  school-caregiver partnership is crucial to building a more equitable, anti-racist, person-centered and socially just school system.

We encourage the District to continue to listen and actively seek out input from parents and caregivers to ensure that all families understand and agree with any adjustments made to student expectations when teaching and learning under conditions of a pandemic.

In Conclusion, our comments tonight point to the importance of transparency and accountability for student learning. The district’s revised proposal and inclusion of diverse parent voices on the COVID-19 Task Force suggest a deepening of respect for the role that parents and caregivers play in education. 

We would like to point out that IEP meetings are a context where the parent/caregiver role in education decision-making is legally mandated. We call on CPS to treat IEP teams as a microcosm for fully collaborative decision-making. Unfortunately, at this time, IEP teams do not provide a model of what collaborative decision-making should look like. Too often, decisions seem to have been made before the team even sits down at the table. When our views differ from the district’s position, we often face hostility.

We will continue to raise this issue, but take heart in the actions the district has been taken to fully include diverse parent and caregiver voices in decision-making at the district level. 

Thank you very much for your time and for all you are doing to support the best possible decision-making during this difficult and unprecedented time. 

The Leadership Team of Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council:

  • Nicole Ahart 
  • Ruth Ryan Allen  
  • Bernette Dawson  
  • Lisa Downing 
  • Karen Dobak  
  • Gardite Fougy  
  • Love Holloman  
  • Julie McKinney 
  • Alec McKinney 
  • Berry Pierre  

  • Rosalie Rippey   
  • Mercedes Soto  
  • Ena Valenzuela 
  • Linda Vick

Cambridge SEPAC Statement Advocating for the Learning Needs of Students with Special Needs for Remote and In-Person Learning

As we face a pandemic which includes both COVID-19 and the the centuries-old public health crisis of systemic institutional racism, we, the leadership of the Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Committee urge CPS to prioritize the physical and emotional safety of our children with special needs, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Under life and death conditions, we must also stand up for the physical and emotional safety of the educators and staff who care for and educate our children.

CPS must collaborate with families and caregivers to ensure the removal of additional barriers faced by students with special learning needs to receive a free appropriate public education. We urge the district to adopt a remote educational model at the start of the school year, making in-person education the exception and not the default. And, we urge CPS to prioritize students with the most needs and the least resources for in person learning and partner with caregivers and students to plan for safe, in-person learning options for these students.

Priority students must include younger children, some students with special needs of all ages, placements and grade levels, and students at risk of dropping out of school, including those who failed to engage with remote learning. CPS must do whatever it takes to make sure that all of the trauma experienced by students due to COVID does not result in further lifelong trauma due to a failure to complete high school.

Decisions must be made through equity-driven partnerships and relationships, and not one-size-fits all. Equity means that students who need more, must receive more.

Targeted outreach to families must be provided to ensure understanding and provide families with the opportunity to opt-in and have their children attend school in a physical classroom with co-created and realistic safety procedures that minimize the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus from home to school. This communication should be done by phone call or video meeting whenever possible.

For students on IEPs, CPS must ensure that students receive appropriate accommodations that both goals and services outlined in their IEP are adapted based on the different conditions present with remote learning. This includes collaborating with caregivers so that additional needed services are added to the IEP without delay if they are needed to ensure that students receive a free and appropriate education in a remote context. These may include additional goals, accommodations, or services that had not previously been needed.

Additionally, for Special Education Students, CPS must ensure that students are provided thorough transition planning services starting by age 14. CPS should collaborate with the student and caregivers to ensure that the transition planning goals are truly about the student’s dreams for adult living and address all of the competencies necessary to make the student’s dreams come true. Due to the constraints of what can be accomplished under COVID, we demand that CPS extend the timeframe to accomplish the students transition plan beyond age 22 if needed.

In order to maximize learning in a remote context for ALL students, CPS must take decisive action to provide high-quality, consistent, interactive and relationship-driven remote learning opportunities for students who are able to participate and access the curriculum through this medium. We expect our students to receive a robust education that addresses their learning gaps and continues to teach new content.

CPS should utilize all staff to reach out and develop relationships with students. Some staff could be assigned to be “youth outreach workers” to text reminders and make phone calls to ensure that students are engaged.

In addition, CPS must collaborate with all educators and staff to ensure that they receive the support they need to effectively serve students remotely including partnering with caregivers to determine what works best for students to make progress. In the interest of transparency, learning benchmark assessments should be shared and discussed with parents regularly, whether or not a student has an IEP.

CPS must also teach students how to plan for and organize their day for remote learning. This includes explicit teaching of schedule planning, calendar use, alarms, and notifications. Expectations should be clear around attendance and remaining focused and engaged during virtual lessons.

Finally, CPS must work with caregivers, teachers, and principals to change its discipline procedures to one of restorative justice and positive behavioral support. This means eliminating the practices of suspensions and expulsions. For too long, black and brown students, particularly those with disabilities, have been excluded from school due to behavioral concerns by either sending the student to the office, calling the parent to pick them up without documenting this as a suspension, or through formal suspension or expulsion from school. We are concerned that increased policing of student’s bodies will occur due to COVID concerns, and that this will be used to further marginalize this population and deny them the same learning opportunities as their peers.

We look forward to continued collaboration as we all look for solutions that will best serve students in Cambridge.