Friday, June 25, 2010


Dr. Bernard Ellis Part II

You have a role to play in your child's special education program!

If you are not taking an active role in the planning and implementation of your child’s IEP you are taking a chance with your child’s education.

Over the years I have been part of or observed many Team meetings. I have discovered that in meetings where the parents play an active role the outcome is more productive than when the parents are mere observers. Remember that parents are members of the IEP Team. The following may assist you as you work with your child’ s team:

1. Every person possesses a limited amount of emotional energy. This energy should be used in a positive manner when dealing with your child’s teacher or team. Being positive does not mean that you must agree with everything that is said or proposed. You should and can disagree without being disagreeable.

When you are negative or become very argumentative you force other people to take positions that may be difficult for them to change at a future date. There are procedures to obtain what your child needs and an argument is not one, Keep in mind that all decisions of the team must be reached by consensus. A decision cannot be made by any one member of the team or by an administrator.

IDEA provides for a free and appropriate education for your child. The law does not state that you are entitled to the best program, but are entitled to an adequate program. When you make demands for items in the IEP you must have done your homework and know what you are requesting and why you are making this request. Do not make demands for a service that would exceed an adequate program.

2. Your homework should include an understanding of your child’s test results.These results may have come from the school’s testing or from your examiners. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember if your are not an educator you are not expected to understand all the test data. Take whatever time is necessary for you to feel comfortable about the test information. Remember your child’s program is built on the test data. There is no way for you to evaluate a program or request a service unless you understand your child’s needs. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help.

3. You should understand that the IEP is a contract between you and the school
district to provide services for your child. The team meeting is the arena where the negotiations take place to develop and implement programs. You must always be prepared when you attend these meetings. Before the meeting, you must develop your agenda, with the items you wished discussed or any actions you are requesting from the team. If there is not enough time scheduled to answer you questions, request another meeting. You as a team member have the right to request team meetings.

4. I would recommend that you record the Team meetings. This should be done in an open manner with the recorder on the table. You need to notify the school district in writing prior to the meeting that you intend to record all team meetings. This request should be made early in the process. You should not wait until there is a problem. The recording should be a routine at each meeting. This procedure is not
intended to cause a problem, it is a way to have an accurate record of what takes
place at each team meeting. A Team member may object to the recording by
indicating that you do not trust the team or its members. You can respond by explaining that you need the opportunity to review the team meetings to better understand the process. If for some reason, in the future, you need to resolve a problem or move to due process, these recordings may be very useful. If the team refuses to allow you to record the meetings you need to seek outside assistance.

5. You need to develop a method of keeping and storing records, test data, minutes etc. I would recommend a large three ring notebook. You need to organize the notebook in such a manner that you can easily retrieve information. You should bring the notebook to each Team meeting.

When you work with the school personnel you should keep a record. I would recommend a telephone log where you record the date, person and items discussed. Keep copies of all correspondence from the school. Do not forget e-mails. When you have talked with someone and you have agreed on an item you should write to that person and confirm what was discussed. As I have told parents over the years, you need to document, document, document. I would also recommend that you write to staff members and thank them when you feel it is appropriate.

Never be afraid to seek help. I have told parents over the years it is impossible
to turn the clock back and start over, you must deal with a situation when it exists.

The following are some resources:

Parent Information Center
Concord, NH 800-847-7005

New Hampshire Department of Education - Concord, NH 603-271-3189
You can request a copy of the rules in New Hampshire or Vermont for the Education of Children with Disabilities



Bernard J. Ellis, Ed.D.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Liz Agosto - Part II

As may be evident from my personal story, I believe deeply in the power of student involvement and student leadership to transform the lives of young people. I have seen the power personally and I am lucky enough to see the action first hand. Over the last three years at Dartmouth and with my over ten years of work with the Student Leadership Training Program (, I have had the privilege of seeing students discover talents they didn’t know they had. I have watched as they found their voice and used it to take a stand, to make a difference, to give voice to the voiceless. I have seen students take action to solve problems in their schools, in their local communities, and in their world. I have worked with students of all abilities and discovered in them a deep desire to be heard, to influence change and to follow their passions. I believe that student involvement gives them the skills, the confidence and the strength to be change agents and to make the world we live in better.

Today’s schools can be silencing places for many students, especially for students that may stand out from the crowd. Everyone is searching for a place to fit in; a place to belong. Throughout elementary school students are given opportunities to shine and to excel at a wide variety of tasks. They are taught the value of creativity and we as adults celebrate the smallest accomplishments as monumental milestones in their lives. As these young children grow, those opportunities for praise and excellence become fewer and fewer. The rise of a testing culture in our schools devalues creativity and student’s value becomes based on the answers they bubble in on a scantron. This experience of education often does not provide opportunities for students to feel engaged or connected to their educations in a meaningful way. The higher the grade the more funneled the view of success becomes and we increasingly leave students on the sidelines.

This funneling and disengagement happens at a time when students are more and more ruled by the part of their brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is deeply tied to our emotional response to situations and assists in memory imprinting based on this emotional response. It plays a role in the rapid emotional reactions that we see in adolescents. This period of middle school and high school is challenging. They don’t feel as though they belong anywhere or that anyone understands them. They are searching for their own identity and attempting to find ways to connect to the world. The lack of connection at school, the feeling that their teachers don’t care or that their classmates are “phony” prevails but also sends them into a downward mental spiral. It is much easier for students middle school and high school age to think about themselves negatively than it is for them to think about themselves positively and once they begin to practice negative self-talk, the amygdala kicks in and helps them imprint those negative reactions in connection to school or the educational environment.

Decreased connection to school, increased quest to fit in and decreased opportunities to be affirmed or to excel combined with temperaments ruled by emotional response, provides a volatile cocktail for students. We see the results in the increases in bullying and other negative behavior in schools and communities. New technologies mean that bullying no longer ends at the schoolyard gates but follows students home on their cell phones, emails, and facebook pages. The interactions between students become more anonymous and we see the use and creation of sites like Juicy Campus to terrorize other students. In the last year there have been increased suicides of very young children that were caused by students feeling so persecuted by other students bullying them. Schools have reacted to the negative behavior by increasing disciplinary sanctions, by banning any sort of touching in schools, by freezing facebook and other online sites so they cannot be used in the school. All of these are band-aid solutions. None of them address the underlying issues: loss of student voice, disengagement from the educational experince and general lack of belonging or space in schools.

I believe that student leadership and involvement is a more viable and vital solution to the many ills that we see in our schools. Increased budget concerns and increased pressure to test, causes lawmakers to continue to cut arts, sports and other co-curricular programs. These programs are as vital to the student experience as the classroom components. It is in these out of classroom experiences that students build self-esteem. It is where they are asked to problem solve, to make decisions, to communicate with different types of people, to take risks – to build the skills they need to be successful inside and outside the classroom. Providing opportunities for students to perform music, create art, design programs, engage in debate and bring life to the school allows students to create their own sense of belonging, to find a home for themselves in a school, to excel in places outside of the classroom. We should be including student voices in our decision-making about education and about schools. They are the experts of their environment and should be given an opportunity to educate us on what their experience is like and given an opportunity to suggest changes. I have found that when we trust our young people and set high expectations for them, they rise to the challenge. I have seen students of all abilities bring incredible ideas, insight and wisdom to the table when asked how can they improve their school environment. By including them in the decision-making, by asking for their opinion we give them back their voice. We allow them to shine and to reinvest in their education and environment. We can empower students to take initiative. We can empower students to reach out to those around them. We can empower students to change the culture of their schools but in order to do so, we must invest in them and take the time to evaluate our own responses to behavior and our own parts in creating the culture that exists.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Matthew Almeida Part I - "It all started with toothpaste box spaceships..." - Matthew Almeida, Artist and Designer

I remember as a young child all the fun I used to have cutting and gluing empty toothpaste boxes into fantastic little spaceships for my action figures. They had fins and wings and a kitschy charm that could only be found in something truly hand made and original. As I grew up my creative desires grew with me, and I learned to sketch, and draw, and work with models and computers. No matter what else I was doing in life, somewhere in the background there was always something being built or sewn or crafted. I reveled in the creative problem-solving process, whether I was making something tangible or tapping away for hours at my little Commodore 64 “computer” to create the code to “bounce” a ball across the screen.

In college I dove into a double major of Civil Engineering and Art History, planning to be a consulting engineer on historic restoration projects. After a few years, my love of art overwhelmed my interest in crunching numbers, and although I eventually left the physics, chemistry, and advanced mathematics behind me, I discovered that there were aspects of them that brought my design to a new level. It was in college that I also developed a love of history, and an understanding of classical styles and timeless design. I also learned through my studies in engineering to make things that could be practical and functional as well as beautiful. People around me began to take notice of what I was doing and I was able to earn my way through college creating costuming and props for Renaissance Faires, re-enactors, and Live Action Roleplayers.

After college, trying to make my way into a tough economy, I began to work with children. I ran a before and after-school program with 75 kids, and my creative desires were fueled creating craft projects and elaborate “theme days” to introduce the children to my world of activity. That position was a stepping stone into the museum world, where I worked as a Park Ranger in Lowell National Historical Park. Located in the heart of one of New England's largest mill towns, Lowell was revitalizing itself by bringing its past to life and sharing it with the world. I joined the effort by assisting the curatorial department in the creation of exciting exhibits and shows. I designed and laid out display panels and fliers, helped create the supporting graphics for temporary and permanent exhibits, and dabbled in costuming with the Park's “Living History” program.

I left the museum world to take on my greatest challenge—being a stay at home dad. I gave up exhibit design and guiding tours for diapers and playdates, but even then I was unable to set aside my creative desires. I turned to freelancing, working during naptimes and at night to create costuming, leatherwork, and graphic designs. I continued my work with re-enactors and roleplayers and expanded it into stage and film, working with independent filmmakers and the Boston Ballet.

As my children grew I began to see a pattern. Everywhere my life took me, design and craft followed along. I decided that I was going to make what I loved to do, be what I was paid to do. I updated my skills at Boston University's Center for Digital Imaging Arts and set off to do what I do best, make ideas into tangible things.

Now I work to bring that lifetime of creative drive to my clients. I pour my passion, diverse knowledge and broad technical skill base into every project I do. To me there is no such thing as “standard corporate”, or “sorta artsy”, or “eco-friendly looking”. I start with universal themes like “clean and efficient ” and ideas like “to whom is the audience that we wish to speak?”, and work closely with each of my clients to create a unique object or design that is crafted to meet their specific needs and personality. In the end I am a translator, an interpreter. I take words, ideas and thoughts and translate them into the language of art and design.

Throughout this entire journey, I was dealing with issues involving my ADHD. I was totally unaware that it even existed until I was in my early 20's. I was working with in the after-school program and attending a seminar on recognizing the symptoms of ADHD in children. The more I learned, the more I began to recognize symptoms all right... I recognized them in me!

So many things began to make sense to me. For most of my life I had felt like some strange alien creature, viewing people from the outside and not quite understanding or fitting in. Discovering my ADHD helped me realize that my brain DID work differently, but I was far from alone. I began to see that others in my world thought and reacted in ways that were similar to me. I realized that many things that others perceived as weaknesses in me were actually strengths that I could harness for success.

Like my artistic journey, my path to understanding my ADHD is a long, winding, and sometimes confusing one. I try to stride forward on each of these paths a little more every day, but as it is often said, "The journey can be more important than the destination." I truly believe that applies to so many of our journeys in life, which is a good thing, because I'm not always sure where my destinations lie.

So, for now, I travel onward. I try to be true to myself. I try to embrace and accept who I am. ADHD isn't a weakness, it's my superpower, but don't tell anyone... I'm trying to maintain my secret identity...

Monday, June 7, 2010


ADHD Support Group Upper Valley VT and NH

Time and place to be announced. Currently looking for a responsible person or people to provide childcare for two hours during meeting time. For details please call Theresa: 603-443-9639. Volunteers are preferred. Compensation is available. Must provide references.


Thursday, June 3, 2010


Kristi Bachelder OTR/L Part I

“The Who Behind the What”. That’s what this segment of the guest blog is supposed to highlight. The “What” segment is supposed to highlight what we are passionate about. But I think the “who” is much more relevant if you know the “What” first. My “What” is this: I am passionate about finding solutions to the crisis levels of obesity and impaired learning (motor, social/emotional, and academic) that I see devastating the quality of life for so many kids. And I am passionate in my opinion that the solutions for many (not all) are relatively simple and being continuously ignored as we raise, educate, and professionally service children. More on that later since I need to do the “who” part first.

I am a 33 year old occupational therapist (OT) currently working with school students and in early intervention (ages 0-3). I was born and raised in rural northwestern Pennsylvania. The road to being a pediatric healthcare provider began in high school. My plan as an adolescent was to be a corporate lawyer and make a lot of money. That changed in my later teen years. I spent a lot of time at a Shriner's Hospital as a patient for reconstructive plastic surgery due to burn injuries. The Shriner’s hospital closest to my home was an orthopedic specialty hospital so most of the children I encountered there were immobilized, to some degree, due congenital conditions, illness, or injury. I was the only kid in that hospital that had 4 working limbs and no serious physical limitations. I think that seeing these children with physical impairments up close and personal, and in stark comparison to the purely cosmetic nature of my injuries, triggered both a sense of perspective and gratitude about my own situation. More importantly, it changed my whole way of thinking about my future career as a corporate lawyer.

Instead, I went off to college and began by studying biology. After educating myself on a variety of pediatric health professions I was drawn to occupational therapy immediately because of its basic philosophical focus of using activities that are meaningful and purposeful for the client to improve their functional performance and quality of life. I was also very drawn to the OT’s practice of looking at people from a holistic perspective (holistic health care was not a term I had ever heard in 1995). Since 2003 I have had the pleasure of serving kids as an OT in their homes, schools, and the clinical setting.

Lately, I have been exceedingly frustrated by one particular thing and it has led me to write about the topic I introduced. When I meet a kid for the first time I always ask: “What is your favorite thing to do when you are not at school?” When I see a kid on a Monday I always ask: “What did you do over the weekend?” I get the same answer to both questions at least 90% of the time: “play video games/x-box/play station/wii/computer games”

I propose that until we find a way to change this answer, we, as parents, educators, specialty service providers, and taxpayers are throwing a good portion of our time, effort, and money down the drain in our current programming for special education and struggling regular education students. I propose that as responsible community members we must find a way to change this for all children. That is what I am passionate about and that is what I will discuss in the next segments.

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