Monarch School:

Monarch School:

Instructional and assistive technology building pathways to success

A small group of Melanie Abad’s pre-K special needs students are thoughtfully studying a basket of apples.

“Look at the red, green, and yellow apples here,” Ms. Abad says, placing the big apples into the little hands surrounding her. “Now we’ll take a look at the apples on the board. Are you ready for your turn?”

Ms. Abad motions toward one of her students and wheels the student’s chair to the board. She hands a Promethean Activwand to the little girl, who clasps it with a double-handed grip.
“Can you put the red apple on the tree?” Ms. Abad asks in a quiet voice, sitting close to the student and steadying the wand.

The child points the wand to the left side of the lowered Promethean Activboard, an interactive white board. She correctly selects a red apple among green and yellow choices, then drags the apple to a spot on the apple tree.

“Good job!” Ms. Abad exclaims, as two other aides share their enthusiastic applause. “Our friend did so well and I’m so proud of her! Let’s have another friend give it a try.”

Ms. Abad assists a student as she guides
an apple to its place on the tree.

Instructional technology is making a difference and engaging young learners at the Monarch School, which serves preschool children with special needs through GCPS' Early Childhood Program.

Ms. Abad’s students, like students in most Monarch classrooms, are working with Promethean Activboards, interactive “smart boards” that allow students and teachers to access educational software programs for digital lessons; download photos, video, and animation from the Internet; and share multisensory experiences in the most direct way—with the tap of an Activwand or the sweep of an Activpen.

School sees impact of ‘smart boards’

A kindergarten student guides
his response with an Activwand.
The Promethean Boards have been in place at the school since late September. Already, educators say they’re seeing an impact.

“I recently observed a class of our four-year-olds, and for 50 minutes, they stayed engaged,” says Dr. Barbara Martin, Monarch principal. “It was such an interesting dynamic to see, and in some cases the kids would become teachers to their peers and their teachers. Our possibilities are infinite with this technology.”

First-year teacher Rachael Gattis says, “It’s already amazing to see what our three- and four-year-old students have picked up. This exposure so early in their school careers is extremely important. I’m so excited to see what our kids will be capable of in May.”

Beth Albright, another member of the Early Childhood team, added, “We were surprised about their questions. They were very observant, and love to participate more in the classroom. They like getting up [to the Promethean Board] and making something happen. Even one of our visually impaired students has worked through recognizing certain cues when he uses the board.”

ADAPT students benefit from technology

The school also serves adult students with special needs through the ADAPT (Assisting Developing Adults with Productive Transitions) program. Among the school’s ADAPT students, Teacher Logan Flint has witnessed the positive influence of the interactive technology tools.

“My students have autism, and their biggest challenge is to be social,” Mr. Flint says. “They were talking to their teachers, but now they are talking to their peers. They are asking questions and getting engaged. We want to give them every opportunity to succeed and be a part of the community in which they live. They are being exposed to tools like touch screen technology, which is used in everything from ATM machines, to the checkout line at Kroger. It’s exciting to see them recognizing the technology and using what they’ve learned here, especially all the incidental ‘Wow’ moments.”

Technology assists students with special needs

Take a walk around Monarch School and you may notice a few customized features to make navigating the school day a little easier.

Over at the water fountain, a rectangular wooden box featuring non-skid strips stands guard, waiting to give little legs a gentle boost to a refreshing sip of water.

In the classroom, an angled slant board puts an Activslate within reach of a student with special needs.

This wooden step features a safety strip
to help small feet stay steady.

Ms. Gilleland holds an example of small sandbag alongside a lap-friendly stuffed animal.
And the student holding what appears to be a “stuffed lovey” from home? Take a closer look, or attempt to lift it, and you’ll realize this stuffed lovey has some unusually weighty stuffing— a large washer or a small sandbag placed inside the stuffed animal adds weight and pressure, providing a calming effect for the student.

Assistive technology tools and modifications like these produce meaningful moments in the classroom and help prepare students for learning. Sometimes, a simple modification can make a big difference for students.

While some assistive technology tools are used directly in teaching and learning, many others are accommodations that prepare students to learn.

Monarch School is home to the system’s woodworking shop. Gloria Gilleland makes onsite modifications for students’ chairs, and other items including weighted vests, lap weights, and slant boards are constructed for the students’ use.

“The system supported Dr. Martin’s investment in the technology by making sure the resources were ready for our students,” says Bradley Cook, Monarch’s local school technology coordinator. “The original position for the boards would have placed them beyond the reach of our younger students, so they were installed lower, approximately one foot off the floor.”

Ms. Abad, who also serves as Monarch’s assistive technology coordinator, appreciates how the technology tools available to her colleagues accommodate varying levels of student capabilities.

“These tools are often overlooked yet this is the beginning of assistive technology,” Ms. Abad says. “Overall, technology gives us choices in accommodating varying levels of student achievement. With assistive technology, we incorporate universal design, which accommodates everyone. We’re designing our schools and classrooms to accommodate all of our students.”

Mr. Cook works with a few of his students during a matching exercise on a lowered Promethean Board.