September 19, 2017

2017 EPLAC Special Needs Recognition Program Reception

Posted by bobrod72

The annual East Providence Local Advisory Committee for Special Education (EPLAC), held its annual Recognition Awards Reception on Thursday evening, May 4, 2017 at Martin Middle School. EPLAC is a committee comprised of parents of children with disabilities along with administrators, teachers and others with a concern for educational needs of children. The committee meets throughout the school year to share information.

“Our committees’ goals are to enable parents of special education children to be effective in their advocacy efforts, to jointly advocate for all children with special needs, to aid the School Department in its efforts to provide quality education for all students and to provide each other with a strong network of support,” said EPLAC spokesperson Sharon Kochan.

Each year EPLAC seeks to identify those individuals or programs that are providing consistently outstanding services for Special Education students, especially in the area of inclusion. “Through their hard work and dedication, students are provided with opportunities that promote self-determination, interdependence and meaningful learning. It is our honor to share their story with others and celebrate their commitment to the students of the East Providence School Department at this annual recognition program,” added Kochan.

East Providence School Department Director of Pupil Personnel, Julian "Bud" MacDonnell gave a welcoming address. "It is my honor to be here tonight, the 9th year for these recognitions," said MacDonnell. "We truly have an all-kids agenda in our school district and our students and award recipients are amazing. We appreciate all that you do."

Guest speakers Deanne Gagne, Tanja Blicker-Ucran and Steve Porcelli of the RI Cross Disability Coalition (RIDDC) gave presentations. Also speaking was Susan Babin of the RI Developmental Disabilities Council. "Our job is to provide information and help families with Developmental Disabilities," said Sue Babin. The RIDDC promotes public policy that leads to the independence, productivity, and inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life through planning, evaluation, collaboration, education, research, and advocacy.

The 2017 EPLAC award recipient winners are:

  • Chris Antao, Community Resource, Gnome Surf
  • Therapeutic Program, Program, Silver Spring
  • Christopher Russo, Social Worker, Silver Spring
  • Tenika Ortiz, Psychologist, Silver Spring
  • Kristin Branco, Speech Pathologist, M.J. Francis
  • Filomena Freitas, Teacher Assistant, Kent Heights
  • Lisa Logan, Teacher Assistant, Martin Middle School
  • Isabel Tavares, Student, Silver Spring
  • Arielle Fox, Student, Orlo Avenue
  • Haylee Mota, Student, Martin Middle School
  • Keigan Grant, Student, Whiteknact School
  • Jacqui Barker, Regular Education Teacher, Orlo Avenue
  • Cate Cote-Martel, Regular Education Teacher, Hennessey
  • Erin Carrera, Teacher, CTC at EPHS
  • Erin Rupert, Special Educator, EPHS
  • Tiffany Bergeron, Special Educator, Whiteknact
  • Lisa Benetti, Special Educator, Orlo Avenue

During the recent ceremony on May 4th, 2017, there were many inspirational stories. Many in the large crowd of supporters were brought to tears. "You'll notice that we placed a box of tissues on each table," said Sharon Kochan. The tissues were used by many in attendance as heartwarming stories were the order of the day.

Here are some of the introductions and stories by nominators and recipients:

Chris Antao, Community Resource, Gnome Surf:

“I would like to recognize the amazing influence Christopher Antao of Gnome Surf has had on my son Logan. Logan loves the water and after participating in several Surfers Healing events he has developed a genuine interest in learning how to surf,” writes Amanda Fournier. “I saw a Facebook post about Chris and Gnome Surf and decided to contact him. As a special needs mom, I knew it was important to fully disclose Logan’s diagnosis and review any possible issues that might come up during a lesson. Chris was not intimidated by what I had to say; on the contrary, he was excited to get out in the water with him!” continues Logan’s mom.

“Logan surfed with Chris once a week all summer long. Each lesson was filled with patience, understanding, encouragement and lots of high-fives! The effect of Chris’s positive attitude was highly visible from my spot on the beach. It wasn’t long before I started to notice a difference in Logan. My son, who has always been incredibly hard on himself and would never take a risk, was suddenly opening up. He volunteered to sing karaoke on vacation and was able to laugh and enjoy the silliness of singing Christmas carols in July. He recently participated in a dance competition in front of his entire middle school despite having very little coordination. The most important change I’ve seen in Logan has been his attitude and I believe that is a direct result of spending time with Chris,” said Amanda Fournier.

“Chris is truly a role model. I am so thankful that Logan has Chris in his life and I am proud to call him a friend,” added Fournier.

Tenika Ortiz, Psychologist and Christopher Russo, Social Worker, Silver Spring Elementary School:

I am writing this letter to nominate Tenika Ortiz, School Psychologist and Christopher Russo, School Social Worker for the Special Needs Recognition Program at Silver Spring,” writes Paula Dionisopoulos, Therapeutic Coordinator. Tenika and Chris bring a plethora of back ground knowledge of a broad range of community services to support students and families. They navigate the families through the process of getting the services they need. They strengthen the connection between home and school. They assist with behavior concerns, positive behavior supports and classroom supports. They develop evidence based programs based on students’ needs. They have excellent communication, interpersonal and collaboration skills that they consistently use in crisis situations and meetings with students, families, staff and administration,” added Dionisopoulos in her nomination letter.

“They always put students first and advocate for the least restrictive environment and inclusion opportunities. They are an asset to the education of our students. They make it possible for every student to reach their potential in all aspects of the school environment. They are always there to provide all students with positive encouragement for their progress and accomplishments. Their experience and professionalism in every aspect of the school is highly regarded by the Silver Spring community. They create a positive school climate.”

Lisa Logan, Teacher Assistant, Martin Middle School:

Teacher assistant Lisa Logan was nominated by Martin Middle School student Logan Fournier and others. Student Fournier bounded quickly to the speaker's podium as he introduced his teacher assistant to the crowd. "She understands me! She had lots of time to get to know me because she takes the time! She knows what I really need," said Fournier. "I would not be a success at Martin Middle School without Mrs. Logan's help...and her corny jokes!" added Fournier to a big laugh and ovation from the attendees. As Lisa Logan embraced her student she could only say "thank you," through tears of happiness.

Erin Carrera, Teacher CTC, East Providence High School:

"I would like to recommend Chef Erin Carrera for the Special Needs Recognition award. She goes above and beyond daily to make sure my student in the Life Skills program, is receiving an inclusive classroom experience," said Kristin Chase, EPPA President. "She often dedicates extra time to her to foster growth and independence. Chef has high expectations, a lot of patience, and differentiates the curriculum and does appropriate test modifications to my students' academic level. She often takes the time to not only help my student, but assist me in better helping her to thrive in the culinary setting. It is with great pleasure and confidence that I recommend Chef Erin for this award as she is very deserving and we are lucky to have her at our EPHS Career Center."

Arielle Fox, Student, Orlo Avenue Elementary School:

"Arielle Fox is a 3rd grade regular education student in a full inclusion classroom. When in the classroom, students tend to go towards Arielle for help due to her warmth and kindness. She is regularly spotted helping other students in her classroom. Arielle also has a special gift of patience when it comes to her classmates that may require some. On several occasions I have observed Arielle set up materials for an autistic student in the classroom that may have been on sensory overload," said Orlo Avenue School Principal Yanaiza Gallant.

"I have also witnessed her come outside of the classroom while a student was having a hard time and use the words "I've got this" as adults wonder where she was headed. Arielle has a knack for being a calming component to those that are in need. One day I received a call from her mom to let me know that Arielle was worried because one of our special students from her class was still on the bus and she felt it was "too long of a ride" for him," added Gallant.

"Arielle regularly saves seats in the lunchroom for her special needs classmates who typically struggle with creating friendships. I would not be surprised if Arielle becomes a Special Educator in the near future. She already is a natural. She is the epitome of acceptance, kindness, and inclusiveness."

Keigan Grant, Student, Whiteknact Elementary School:

"I feel as though Kegan does an amazing job with the special education students that participate in inclusion within my classroom. His ability to engage with and his success in creating friendships has been outstanding," said special needs teacher, Tiffany Bergeron. He goes out of his way to make my students feel welcome. He attempts each day to make them feel good about themselves and feel included in every aspect of the school day. He has taken the time to learn what makes them happy and does his very best to do it daily."

Tiffany Bergeron, Special Educator, Whiteknact Elementary School:

"Tiffany Bergeron is the teacher of our “Severe and Profound” program at Whiteknact Elementary school. Ms. Bergeron’s strong advocacy for her students is visible in the way she differentiates her instruction to meet every child’s needs. She continuously displays high levels of academic expectations for her students, while maintaining a strong focus on social skills development. If you were to walk into Ms. Bergeron’s class, you would see the beginning of the day start with a morning meeting, at time when her students gather at the front half table by the SMART board and participate in a daily routine where Ms. Bergeron and her staff greet every student and begin lessons on the calendar, and weather using songs," writes Whiteknact Principal Teresa Medeiros.

"Ms. Bergeron has dedicated a tremendous amount of time to training her staff. She models daily best practices that advance student achievement and well being. She is a model to her own colleagues and supports them in their own instruction and behavior management. Her management of behavior is consistent, respectful and grounded on the belief that student integrity and privacy are a priority.

Ms. Bergeron has been instrumental in designing the Best Buddies Program in our school in collaboration with our social worker and other special educators. This program fosters relationships between her students and typical peers in the Whiteknact school community. Ms. Bergeron deserves the recognition for her dedication and strong belief that all students can reach high levels of performance. She is a valued member of the Whiteknact team!" - Principal Medeiros.

Isabel Tavares, Student, Silver Spring Elementary School:

"I am nominating Isabel Tavares for the Special Needs Recognition Program. Isabel is a fourth grade student at Silver Spring Elementary School in Mrs. Bernier’s class. Mrs. Bernier’s class is one of the inclusion classes for the therapeutic program.

I work in the therapeutic program. The therapeutic program is a brain-based approach which focuses on a foundation and framework that is built with relationships, visual routines, restorative breaks, and reinforcement with credits based on evidence. This approach requires a comprehensive understanding of the elements and how they intertwine to create a therapeutic approach.

Students like Isabel can be valuable teachers. A student can be the teacher and get another student involved in learning. This is where Isabel stands out from the crowd because she consistently reaches out to the students that are struggling. She makes an extra effort to include them in every aspect of the school day. This includes academics, or peer social activities at recess and lunch. I have observed her natural, genuine quality of demonstrating acceptance for all students. She never gives up on a peer," said Paula Dionisopoulos, Therapeutic Coordinator.

"She is an asset to the education of her peers. She contributes to students reaching their potential in all aspects of the school environment. It is with great respect and admiration that I am nominating Isabel Tavares for providing a school environment that provides the best practices for the students at Silver Spring Elementary School," said Dionisopoulos. "She is a role model for the other students."

Lisa Benetti, Special Educator, Orlo Avenue Elementary School:

"It is of great honor to nominate Ms. Lisa Benetti for the Special Needs Recognition Award. Lisa is the 2nd and 3rd grade special educator at Orlo Avenue School. Ms. Benetti is an experienced special educator. She is a wonderful new addition to the special education team at Orlo this school year. She goes above and beyond to make sure that all of her students receive the appropriate classroom accommodations, testing modifications, and differentiated instruction on a daily basis. She spends hours of her own time on each IEP to make them as specific as possible to ensure that each of her students are getting their individual needs met," said Brittany Kobeissi in her nomination of Benetti.

"She easily developed a rapport with her students that is full of trust and love. Ms. Benetti coordinates her two grade levels as well as her students’ different learning styles in order to best meet their individual needs."

Erin Rupert, Teacher, Skills Program at EPHS:

"Erin was a resource teacher for the past few years at the high school. She was primarily in a collaborative classroom model, co-teaching in several content areas. This school year, Erin moved into the new high school program called “SKILLS”. This program is designed to give some students who were previously considered Life Skills students the opportunity to earn high school credits for the work completed in all classes," said Deborah Ormerod.

"Erin has played a vital part in the success of each of her students. For some students, it was the first time they traveled from room to room to receive instruction. With Erin’s guidance, students learned how to navigate the new rotating schedule at the high school. Based on student need, Erin provided a variety of visual schedules for each student. Erin navigated the world of credits, proficiency expectations, and other high school diploma requirements such as community service," added Ormerod.

"She truly enjoys her students as evidenced by her daily stories. Erin has worked tirelessly all year to assure her students are given every opportunity to reach the final goal – a high school diploma. Thank you, Erin, for a job well done. You have created and maintained a new high school program from the ground up. Your students have shown growth, are integrated even further into the high school community, and are more prepared to life after EPHS," said Ormerod.

Therapeutic Program, Silver Spring Elementary School:

Michael Kirkutis Principal of Silver Spring School nominated the entire Therapeutic Program staff at his school. "I would like to nominate the Therapeutic Program at Silver Spring School to receive the EPLAC Program Award this year. Paula Dionisopolous is the Therapeutic Coordinator and lives her job every day. She not only coordinates staffing and provides professional development, but she coaches staff and meets student need directly throughout the day, every day. She is one of the hardest working individuals that I have had the distinct pleasure to work with," said Kirkutis.

"Tenika Ortiz, our school psychologist, works diligently everyday to meet student, staff, and family need. Tenika will also be the first one to respond to a walkie-talkie call for additional support. She also leads many team meetings and provides guidance and support to teachers and families about how best to work with students.

"Chris Russo is our amazing school social worker. He listens, he laughs, and he cares deeply about each and every student and faculty member in our building. Chris often can be found starting new initiatives in our building and staff seek him out for advice. Dr. Kevin Plummer is the consultant to the Therapeutic Program. He provides valuable guidance and allows for Chris, Tenika, and Paula to be program builders which allows for the growth of the Therapeutic program as well as their own professional growth.

"I've never seen a more sophisticated, well run model for individuals with social and emotional disabilities, as I have with the Therapeutic program. It is the hardest working and most productive group of individuals you will find in special education," said Kirkutis.

Filomena Freitas, Teacher Assistant, Kent Heights Elementary School:

Helena Abu-Raya tearfully nominated Filomena Freitas, a teacher assistant at Kent Heights School. "She made our child very comfortable on a nervous first day of school," said parent Abu-Raya. "It is especially important with students with challenges. Ms. Fil makes sure that my daughter's limitations don't get in the way of her success, happiness and learning."

Kristin Branco, Speech Language Pathologist, MJ Francis School:

"As parents we look for everything we can do for our children," said Mary Whelan-Nascimento. "We are truly blessed when a speech therapist treats her child like her own. Mrs. Branco helps my son with his emotions and educational needs, " added Nascimento. "I only wish I could bring her along to Middle School next year!"

The full room of attendees in the Martin Middle cafeteria were treated to appetizers and a buffet prepared and served by students at the EPHS Career and Tech Center culinary arts program. Stuffed mushrooms, meatballs, bacon covered seafood, teriyaki chicken on a skewer, desert and other treats were provided by the students of the culinary arts program.

Toward the end of the program, United States Congressman David Cicilline came with congressional citations and briefly praised the group. Members of the East Providence School Committee, Joel Monteiro, Jessica Beauchaine and Anthony Ferreira attended as did Assistant Mayor, Ward 1 Councilman Robert Britto.

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