Something this year was different. Maybe it was the fact that Renay had several professional contacts this year, more so than last year. Or maybe it was the fact that everything in the United States right at this moment is underscored by ‘don’t get sick’. Renay couldn’t quite tell, but Cal-TASH was really just as fun as it has ever been and next year, Cal-TASH 2021 returns to Renay’s favorite city: Los Angeles.
There were quite a variety of sessions this year. Every session was interesting. For the first time, Renay opted for a few offbeat, non-school focused sessions. Keep reading on, some surprised even her.
The Opening Panel
Kristen Wright from the State of California, was there to talk about the things facing California’s Special Education. Joined with two parent advocates, Just the hoops that wait, families who move from initial diagnosis, especially families with children born with disabilities, through to preschool, and eventually the school system, it is quite daunting at times. It is not just about how many organizations have recently closed in the last twenty years either. It is also about services that are not always paid for by the same insurances or regional centers.
The words that resonated with Renay from that conversation? Mildly paraphrased because Renay was trying to Tweet and decode the things that were being said in the room: “Lots of people in the world that only know how to do good in the world when they know wrong is going on. They don’t know they won’t do it.” Kristen Wright.
This was the nail on the head for Renay. Many in special education keep talking to others in special education. But the real question is how to get that conversation to be bigger. This conversation of outcomes for people with disabilities is bigger socially, bigger politically, bigger economically, bigger for the quality of life of entire communities. And yet, it is still left to those who know what is wrong and how to get those little pathways made.
We Will Toot Our Own Horn
Honestly, the one thing Renay absolutely loves about attending CalTASH in Sacramento is that Renay can literally travel with everything she has some of it that is in progress or being used. But the session brought up something and we will talk about it next week.
For those of you who want to see the slide deck, we have posted the deck.
Inclusive Education SpeakEasy
This year, there were many parents of self-advocates in attendance. Parents really find strength at events like Cal-TASH because here, honestly, they can find that their stories are not unique and the things that some parents do might be something other parents want to do with their child.
Using Competitive Integrated Employment to Keep People Out of Poverty
Stories from three self-advocates and their journeys from their lives and to the jobs they have now. While Renay has recognized many of these self-advocates for years, she never really knew their story or how they were able to attend Cal-TASH. A few of the self-advocates are business owners and they are highly motivated and some take seasonal work because it changes the way that their continued line of employment works for them. Several incentives were available through a vendorized program for the adults who wanted to pursue independent housing options for themselves. Most self-advocates on this panel, there was a second in another room, live in housing they have arranged which raised a question about housing pricing.
A second point of note for all the self-advocates on the stage how their increased independence and their representation of themselves to the Legislature in Sacramento. More importantly, as the draw for a program like the one demonstrated by the advocacy group here, Stephen Hinkle, a speaker, raised a true point: that the lack of entry-level jobs, the jobs that were once primarily thought of to be ideal for a person with a disability is also a barrier now. There are implications more so now than ever, that people with disabilities need to think about the systems they wish to use to get to the types of jobs they want and that there are many stepping stones that anyone, not just a person with a disability, will have to face to get to the job they so wish.
Parent Stories: Pathways to Inclusive Education and a bit of a Tangent
We are not really certain why Renay walked in the room. Things could have gone very differently in this discussion primarily between parents about how their children experienced early childhood education. Early Childhood has two groups, but all the parents shared their stories from birth to the time their child entered Kindergarten.
But here in this room were parents willing to share their stories and their struggles with trying to have educators understand that there was something more to their child than a test score or even a few experiences.
One of the parents, Karen Cull, a board member of Cal-TASH, was a speaker. And in this session, Renay could not help but think of the exchange Karen and she had earlier. In Renay’s first Cal-TASH session eight years ago, she did present about Modifications. And Karen came up to Renay, pretty excited, and asked about parents making modifications. As Karen described the exchange to Renay, Renay remembered the conversation, Renay just did not recall her reaction, but Karen did. Karen said, “You were like a deer in the headlights, you had not considered parents making modifications.”
And back then, Renay was willing to concede the domain and burden of providing modifications and adaptations was on the school. Whether or not the special education teachers, paraeducators, or general education teachers did the job was not the concern, but really, parents? But eight years later, Renay will say she does know parents have and will, not just trailblazing parents like Karen. The child may be fatigued from leaving school and therapies. The child may still not get it. The assignment was appropriate, but the child really needs more physical space and the assignment sheet did not provide that for the child to do the assignment. This dance requires a lot of communication. This exchange is not a battleground nor is it proof one party does not experience another.
And one more thing that Karen did want Renay to recognize—families who did not have parents who were raised in the United States are not as familiar with specific math vocabulary. We are working on that. It’s on the back burner behind a few other major projects. But just letting you all know: it is coming.
Emergency Preparedness Kits and Plans!
Renay chose to walk here, and she has been working on systems to help students understand what things they need to know to be helped in an emergency. In this session, folks talked about not just things they need to survive in a potential evacuation but things and papers they will need to have in place in case of an emergency. The representative from the State DDS services also talked about the importance of having written numbers and instructions though many of us rely on phones. It would just take a few hours to lose the battery life of a device, thusly we would not have much of the information we connect with. Additionally, discussed was the need for a small stash of emergency money, nothing excessive, but most importantly done in small bills ($1s and $5s) to cut back on the need for change. Having the go kit for all the members of the family and knowing where those supplies were. Leaving a note on a door to inform those who are concerned if evacuation did occur.
This session was a good session with lots to think about. Not just the list that the Red Cross considers important.
Perspectives on Inclusion Across General and Special Education Preservice Teachers
The Data is still in year two of five, but the researchers are working on identifying how the new standards of future educators are going to influence self-reported outcomes by pre-service teachers both general education and special education. The researchers also acknowledged that change is a challenge for some folks in education and they are working against some large systems and proposing a class currently only offered at one of the State Universities.
While we were there, one of the two researchers, posted that she used Nicole Eredics’ book, “Inclusion in Action”.
We’ve been trying to get Nicole to join us at CalTASH for years. And this made Renay laugh that we finally got part of here there.
Lunch with Mary Morningstar
Lunchtime keynotes are always a challenge to Renay. Mostly because food being on a table makes it very difficult to take notes. But the best take away from Professor Morningstar really was when she was linking some thoughts about standards for students primarily students with disabilities: “It’s not ‘transitions’ [for people with disabilities], it’s ‘College and Career Readiness’.” Truly it should be. Yes, the student makes a transition from one campus to another, but what will they do when they leave to adulthood? What did the school provide that student to be college or career ready?
Final Results of a Matched Paris Comparison Study of Children in Inclusive vs. Segregated Classrooms
Another pair of researchers talked about the observational data of segregated and non-segregated students with disabilities and their progress. Students were chosen based on similar disability labels in the IEP, languages spoken at home, information about the student, and then ultimately progress on IEP goals.
The data here will be published through TASH’s main journal in March. But the data is striking. Inclusion offered better results for students.
However, one take away, the presenting researcher did have to comment that some families had chosen the segregated settings in that district. That piece of ‘why’, via bias for certain disabilities or expectations was unclear. But the highlights of this research points again that Inclusion, no matter how you define it, is better than none at all.
Renay did attend more than she recapped here, but because of the nature of the discussions, she felt that she was ill-equipped to recap the stories being told.
The part of the conference you didn’t know you needed
The most important part for educators at CalTASH is just that time to exchange. It seems intimidating to just be in a room with another educator. But like parents, even with nuanced differences, that we share similar stories as educators. Especially upcoming educators, need to try and talk to each other more to support each other better. It is not in the rooms during sessions, even interactive sessions, it’s out in the halls or waiting for technology to be ready to go that professional connections can be forged. Don’t forget to make friends at conferences, not just the ones you brought along. We literally cannot stop laughing that Renay was the one who said this to us this week.
Especially upcoming educators, need to try and talk to each other more to support each other better. It is not in the rooms during sessions, even interactive sessions, it’s out in the halls or waiting for technology to be ready to go that professional connections can be forged.ParaEducate
We are going to get a little Political for a moment
It is rare that we mention anything politically motivated, but while at Cal-TASH a piece of legislation for the State of California was going to be formally introduced this upcoming week, CA AB 1914 for Inclusive Education from Assemblymember O’Donnel (D-70). Of this piece O’Donnel wants Inclusive Education defined, something that has never been done in a state before. And drawing specific provisions in place. More details are coming, but if you are willing to contact your Assemblymember in California, please let them know you support this bill to help support Assembly Member O’Donnel (who happens to be on the Education Committee). More information about CA AB 1914 will come out.
One More Political Comment
The world may be a little overwhelmed with coverage of COVID-19, the virus that is currently making thousands sick, and hundreds die. We are not medical professionals in any way, but we at ParaEducate want to keep reminding folks that they should wash their hands, cough and sneeze into their arms (not their hands), and stay home if they are truly sick. Those of us who work in education are exposed to thousands of viruses annually and we know we share some of those lovely symptoms with our loved ones at home, some of whom are in the target age group fro experiencing health challenges. Those of our students who experience health challenges are also vulnerable to any disease, let alone COVID-19.
Please stay well and safe. Please take care of yourself. Educate others about hand washing. And follow the advice of health officials.
One Final Cal-TASH thought
Cal-TASH is an amazing organization. The number of folks who we meet on a regular basis who have not heard of Cal-TASH, or even TASH, never seems to surprise us. Most are kind, “That sounds amazing.” If you have the chance to experience any of the TASH events or State TASH (Arizona, Missouri, come to mind, but there are more!), share widely your experiences. Learn about the challenges of teaching in the remote areas of Alaska, seeing your students only once a month, camping on the floor of your one-room schoolhouse before flying off with the pilot who hopefully returns on Saturday to take you to the next remote school for another week. Talk often. Listen hard. Build a community.
Talk often. Listen hard. Build a community.ParaEducate
Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.