Special Education Archives - The Children's Guild

Our Commitment and Integrity Shine with Four-Year NCASES Accreditation

Last month, three of The Children’s Guild’s (TCG) non-public schoolsThe Children’s Guild School of Baltimore, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, and The Children’s Guild – Transformation Academy — earned a four-year accreditation from the National Commission for Accreditation of Special Education Services (NCASES), a part of the National Association of Private Special Education Centers (NAPSEC). 

Throughout TCG’s 70-year history, special education has been our cornerstone. We are extremely proud of this validation of our staff’s hard work and commitment to continuous improvement. We also understand how important this external validation is to our students and families, who can be reassured they are receiving the best possible special education services. 

“The NCASES accreditation is a mark of excellence, representing rigorous standards in the delivery of special education services. It reflects our dedication to fostering an inclusive, supportive, and effective learning environment that meets the highest professional standards. We want to extend our gratitude and congratulations to every member of our team. Their tireless efforts and commitment to excellence have made this accreditation possible and we thank them for their dedication and outstanding work,” said Elizabeth Garcia, LCSW-C, MSSA, MNO, Chief People Officer, The Children’s Guild. 

The NCASES accreditation process is based on a study of compliance with 50 national standards covering processes, procedures, and practices critical to the functioning of a special education setting. It also includes a comprehensive site review performed by a team of special education experts. 

“This is beyond regulations, it demonstrates excellence, so we are very proud of our four-year stamp of approval, showing everyone what we are capable of,” added Rae Meneses, Managing Director, Compliance, The Children’s Guild.  

Our entire administration, teachers and staff are to be commended for their part in this accreditation. Click here to learn more about our special education and autism services.

Experience our Transformative Year in Special Education in Our 2023 Annual Report

2023 was an inspiring year for special education at The Children’s Guild. We witnessed our students overcome hurdles and achieve academic and personal milestones. Our partnerships with foundations, government partners, donors, volunteers, and community organizations helped us provide individualized transformational experiences for the children and families we serve. Explore our successes in special education from 2023 in our recently released Annual Report.

The dynamic look of this digital presentation helps illustrate the innovative things that are happening across our organization. The stories in this year’s report highlight our educational philosophy in action in our schools and programs with a specific focus on our special education expertise.

Our incredible year was made possible through the support of our partners and donors. They helped us advance our mission and increase our organization’s capacity to do more. Their belief in our mission, trust in our organization, and generous contributions have been instrumental in helping children, families, and communities thrive.

As we continue to build on the positive impact from 2023, we are committed to breaking down barriers, inspiring change, and building a world where every child can realize their potential. Be inspired with us as you dive into this presentation: TCGAnnualReports.org/2023

Schools Need Special Education Teachers: Where Are They Going, And Where Are They Coming From?

Some concerning numbers about hiring problems and shortages have come from schools recently. More than half of all schools report feeling understaffed, and the two biggest problem areas are special education and math.

The Children’s Guild operates three non-public schools (The Children’s Guild School of Baltimore, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, and The Children’s Guild – Transformation Academy), serving students with behavioral and academic challenges that are usually caused by diagnosed disabilities such as emotional disability, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), developmental disabilities, and more. We know firsthand the shortages and difficulty in finding special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, school social workers and clinicians, and therapeutic behavioral aides and classroom aides.


Here, we look at why this is happening.

THE PROBLEM

A nationwide survey of schools in 2022 reported special education teacher vacancies were nearly twice that of other subject areas. Some 65% of public schools in the US reported being understaffed in special education. More than 78% reported difficulty in hiring special education staff.

Yet more than 7.5 million US students — 15% of all students — have disabilities that qualify them for Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Public and private schools are desperate for special education professionals of all kinds. Special educator shortages are a long-standing challenge in most states, and the problem has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHY THE SHORTAGE?

Educators are both leaving the profession as well as choosing not to join it today. One reason for leaving is burnout, caused by the high demands of the job and inadequate support and resources. Teachers undergoing stress for a long time become emotionally exhausted and lose any sense of personal accomplishment.

The pandemic exacerbated problems for all teachers, especially special education teachers. Studies showed that many special educators met clinical criteria for generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder — in rates several times greater than those in the general U.S. population. The pandemic had moderate to extreme impacts on stress, depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion, as well.

The idea of socially distanced learning was difficult for any teacher, but much more so for special education teachers who rely on high engagement and high touch in their work.

Attrition of special education teachers is 2.5 times that of teachers in general education.

NATIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR SPECIAL ED TEACHERS

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for special education teachers and related service providers requires that every teacher must:

  • Hold at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Obtain full certification in their state or pass the state special education teacher licensing exam

States are not allowed to waive special education certification or licensure on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.

RECRUITING AND RETENTION

Fast-tracking special education teachers by reducing requirements for entry is actually counterproductive. Underprepared special education teachers are less effective and even more likely to leave the field.

Improved working conditions, however, can help with special education teacher retention. Studies show that special educators who provided stronger instruction had a trusted partner co-leading their program, consistent paraprofessionals to help, and adequate time and support for training.

In addition, The Children’s Guild’s own Baltimore Principal, Dr. Katina Webster, testified in early 2023 before the Maryland Senate on Maryland Senate Bill 311 to advocate for a pay increase for special education teachers. By July 1, 2023, the act took full effect. Read this short article to understand what this means for special education teachers in Maryland.

Looking for other solutions? Preparation and qualifications matter. Strong induction programs and mentorship help. District and university partnerships help, as well. There are many financial incentives besides higher pay – loan forgiveness and tuition remission programs offer more prepared and effective teachers.

HOW TO IMPROVE RETENTION

Retention is enabled in positive school climates with a supportive administration where all teachers share responsibility for student achievement, enjoy administrative support, and work with collaborative colleagues.

The Children’s Guild recently embarked on a listening tour among our schools and programs to help build up employee retention and engagement. We were concerned about stats that stood out to us as problematic at our non-public special education schools and our public charter schools alike, such as low trust in leadership and values and daily work misalignment, among others. For more detailed insights, you can refer to the original Gallup articles: Diagnosing a Broken Culture and Worrying Workplace Numbers .

Implementing employee feedback and recognition tools – and ensuring that employees feel heard and leadership remains accountable for implementing changes – can help all educators build increased trust between front-line staff and management. Hopefully a refocus on employee engagement will help our country’s special education professionals feel supported and help our organizations thrive. Learn more about our approach, here: Our People Matter.

Also, we suggest reading, “Strategies to build a sustainable special education teacher workforce” from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

NEEDED NOW MORE THAN EVER

Special ed teachers are in high demand today – in every school district across the U.S. Shortages are an issue, and getting worse. With more than 60% of students with disabilities spending at least 80% of their day in general classes, the need for special educators and their skills in customized curriculums that are accessible to students with disabilities is more essential than ever.

LinkedIn Talent Solutions on Hiring Special Education Teachers.

OUR EFFORTS TO ADDRESS THIS SHORTAGE

Our students need specialized instructors to succeed. In 2024, our non-public schools have partnered with The Children’s Guild HR team to create hiring events at their schools. These events conduct in-person and onsite interviews, and applicants have the opportunity to be hired immediately and begin the onboarding process in the same day.

Many of the jobs that are open also come with a sign-on bonus for special education teachers and staff and pay above the national average for most positions. We have already hired several amazing special education staff from these events and are hopeful that we will continue to reach those who are looking to build a meaningful career in special education.

You can learn more about upcoming hiring events here: Get Hired

Once hired, our special education teachers are welcomed into a culture of support and listening. We are confident that this can help all our educators grow in trust of our leadership. If you are interested in learning more about how we are creating a culture of trust and collaboration, you can download our resources here: Our People Matter

 

A Closer Look At Early Intervention For Kids

There are many services available to support families that have young children with developmental delays and disabilities. These include diagnosis, speech and physical therapy, and other services based on needs. Early intervention has a significant impact on learning skills and overcoming challenges and offers a child more success in school and beyond. As leaders in special education, The Children’s Guild recognizes the importance of early intervention as well as the continual support of students with special needs in our communities.

WHAT EARLY INTERVENTION MEANS

Early intervention is the term for the various services that support kids from birth to three years with developmental delays or disabilities. In addition to what your pediatrician or a specialist can provide, early intervention programs are available in every state for families who meet their state’s criteria for developmental delay. However, programs can be hard to find and difficult to navigate for the average family.

CHANGING A CHILD’S DEVELOPMENTAL PATH

Neural circuits in a child’s brain are the foundation for learning, behavior, and health, and are most adaptable in a child’s first three years. Early intervention is designed to prevent more significant behavioral challenges among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

DIAGNOSING AND SUPPORTING SPECIAL NEEDS AT AN EARLY AGE

If you have developmental concerns with your child, starting with therapies as quickly as possible can make a difference. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends acting as soon as possible, telling your doctor your concerns, speaking with school teachers and counselors, asking for a referral to a specialist, and contacting your state’s early intervention program.

Publicly funded programs that are free of charge or offered at a reduced cost are available around the country.

It can be hard to start this conversation with your doctor. It’s best to be specific and use detailed written notes to keep track of what you’ve noticed and who you’ve communicated with. Follow along with these recommendations to share your development concerns with your pediatrician and other specialists. If you have to wait for an evaluation (and this is common), make the most of your wait time by reading, singing, playing, and making crafts with your child. The CDC recommends that you “talk to the child, label household items, point out interesting things, tell stories, comment about what you see and how you feel, and explain how things work and why things happen. Your child may not always seem to be listening, but he or she may be hearing more than you think.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a free Milestone Tracker App for parents. From birth to 5 years, a child will typically reach certain milestones in play, learning, speaking, acting, and moving. The app helps you track your child’s development and act early if there’s a concern.

If you’re looking for a support network for advice and guidance, check organizations like Family Voices, or call 1-888-835-5669.

SCREENING FOR YOUR CHILD

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends developmental and behavioral screening for all children during regular well-child visits at nine months, 18 months and 30 months. They also recommend that all children be screened specifically for ASD during regular well-child visits at 18 and 24 months.

If your child is at higher risk due to preterm birth, low birthweight, or environmental risks like lead exposure, you might also want to at additional screening.

LEARN THE SIGNS. ACT EARLY.

If you’re concerned about your child’s development, don’t wait. Talk to someone. Every child is different, but you know your child best. Acting early can make a real difference. Once a child is school age, ask if they are eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and if they can access wrap-around services during the school day. The Children’s Guild offers these services in all of our preschools, charter schools, and non-public schools. Behavior therapists, social workers, speech language pathologists, mental health counseling, and other specialists can help educate the whole child with a focus on social and emotional learning. Every child should have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and these services can help identify goals unique to your young learner.

You can reference this useful Fact Sheet on Developmental Monitoring and Screening from the CDC, in English and Spanish.

Remember that early intervention isn’t just about addressing challenges. It’s about unlocking potential, fostering growth, and nurturing every child’s unique ability. By embracing early intervention, you can feel empowered and view every milestone achieved as a testament to the incredible resilience within your child. Together, let’s continue to advocate for and invest in early intervention programs. With a commitment to inclusion, we can create a world where every child, regardless of their abilities, can achieve their dreams.

Technology Is a Necessary Tool in Our Special Education Classrooms and Schools

This April, The Children’s Guild is proud to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month.  

Since we started educating in 1953, we have been a leader and pioneer in special education and working with children on the autism spectrum. There’s been a lot of progress in special education. Schools like ours can make it easier for families to access resources and technology tools that assist children in the classroom, at home, and even at play outdoors and on the playground.

OUR EXPERIENCE 

The Children’s Guild operates three non-public schools serving students with behavioral and academic disabilities including emotional disturbance, autism across the spectrum, developmental disabilities, and more. With a focus on special education—and different accompanying technologies—our students at The Children’s Guild School of Baltimore, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, and The Children’s Guild – Transformation Academy are successful both in and outside the classroom.

“We know that early intervention for special education is key to a child’s success,” says Vesna Grujicic, special education leader and Principal, The Children’s Guild -Transformation Academy. “Multidisciplinary teams that include professionals from various fields, such as medical, education, speech and language pathology, social work, occupational therapists, and parents, work collaboratively to meet the needs of every child with exceptionality by creating, implementing, and monitoring individualized educational plans. Additionally, nowadays technology plays a significant component in this process.”

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES AND TOOLS IN OUR CLASSROOMS

Special education technologies help our students learn while accommodating their individual learning styles and limitations. These technologies can also help them experience greater independence, less anxiety, and better connections with classmates.

There is a huge array of tools available for almost any need, and all are readily available to a student’s community, including, but not limited to, parents, specialists, and teachers.

There are several examples of how we use technology to help our students find success. For our vision-impaired students, magnifiers and talking devices open their world. For our hearing-impaired students, technology that includes vibrations, flashing lights, amplification, captioning, and more, is now available and widely used.

Speech communication: we encourage students to find their voice and communicate verbally with communication boards, speech output software, symbol-making software, and other technology.

Students who need mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, scooters, and power chairs, keep up with their classmates in class and on the playground with the help of these technologies.

To ensure that every student has the resources they need to learn in the classroom, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County received funding for assisted learning devices for students who need additional support. These assisted learning devices help students overcome any barriers to learning during the school year. The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County students are excelling in the classroom with the help of these devices.

TECHNOLOGIES USED IN OUR PLAYGROUNDS 

We believe every space should be accommodating for those with special needs. At the Children’s Guild – Transformation Academy, The Orokawa Foundation Playground is uniquely designed to meet the needs of students with exceptionalities. It is one among a few playgrounds in the nation that accommodate students’ sensory needs as well as educational needs.

“This new play space represents a significant milestone in our commitment to providing an inclusive educational environment. This space supports the social, emotional, and sensory needs of our students on the autism spectrum, empowering them to thrive,” says Vesna Grujicic, principal.

Playground design input came from physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other specialists from Transformation Academy and other special education organizations. The fence extends into the surrounding woods to make it seem more open. Slides sit side-by-side so kids, parents, and teachers can slide next to each other. A spinning structure called the We-Go-Round is designed for kids with wheelchairs. An enclosure offers peace and quiet if a student needs a break.

Kids with autism often have Sensory Processing Disorder and are sensitive to certain sounds or textures. So, playground benches are fabricated of smooth material and are many different colors to promote feelings of calm and curiosity. Musical bells and large xylophones offer calming sounds and the chance for students to make their own music.

A fun feature of the playground that is used in warmer weather includes a tower that can spray water on multiple children, making water fun and exciting for students who may be nervous or afraid of water. “Imagine you have a child that won’t take a shower,” says Mark Rapaport, managing director of autism services at The Children’s Guild. “Now kids can go outside and stand under a sprayer and they’re loving it. Why? Because they’re watching other kids do it.”

SENSORY AND VOCATIONAL ROOM TECHNOLOGIES 

A sensory room is designed for anyone with neurodevelopmental or psychiatric conditions, such as a learning disability, anxiety, ADHD, autism, behavioral challenges, or mood disorders. They are created to be comfortable, dim, quiet, and secure so that the person can explore everything calmly and build confidence. We are proud to have sensory rooms at our schools in Maryland and Washington, DC. These spaces offer enormous value for both children and teachers in schools.

At The Children’s Guild -Transformation Academy in Baltimore, the Louise G. Goldberg Vocational Room helps students with skill development and job readiness. “This new space represents a significant milestone in our commitment to providing an inclusive educational environment. While performing assigned tasks, students are learning how to complete jobs that might include but are not limited to food preparation, sorting items, vacuuming, and shredding,” says Vesna Grujicic, principal.

The Children’s Guild School of Baltimore’s Career Center focuses on preparing students for life after high school. Teachers work with students on essential skills required for diverse career paths, whether pursuing higher education or entering the workforce. Mr. Randall Rykiel, a teacher in the career center, emphasizes the development of soft skills such as teamwork, communication, and work ethic, recognizing their universal importance in any job setting. Hands-on activities engage students with diverse interests and abilities and allow them to see the direct application of their skills in real-world scenarios.

“I love seeing them excited to come to class and do the work. I love seeing that they’re able to communicate what career they want to do.” — Randall Rykiel, Teacher, The Children’s Guild School of Baltimore.

WE ARE LEADERS IN SPECIAL NEEDS TECHNOLOGIES

More than seven decades of work with kids gives us powerful experience with special education and special needs technologies. We know technology doesn’t cure or eliminate learning difficulties, but we see it helping our students reach their potential allowing them to capitalize on their strengths.

We combine our deep experience and our unique educational approach of educating the whole child to help our students find success in and outside of the classroom.

It is because of our natural curiosity and always asking the question “Why?” – that we have discovered new ways of understanding autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the most effective ways of working with children on the spectrum. We also ask the question “Why not?” and are striving to ensure that our students, their families, and our staff are equipped with the tools needed for success. Simply put, we aim to make the seemingly impossible, possible.

Interested in donating to support special education programs?

Did You Know?

In 2021–22, students in the U.S. ages 3–21 who received special education and/or related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was 7.3 million, or 15% of all public school students. Among students receiving special education and/or related services, the most common category of disability was specific learning disabilities (32%).

Source: National Center for Education Statistics). 

Expanding Opportunities: The Impact of Vocational Rooms in Education

In honor of Louise G. Goldberg, a former dedicated teacher and board member of The Children’s Guild, generous donors helped create a vocational room at The Children’s Guild: Transformation Academy. The Louise G. Goldberg Vocational Room offers students pathways to skill development and job readiness, enhancing their employability and overall quality of life.

“This new space represents a significant milestone in our commitment to providing an inclusive educational environment. This space supports the social, emotional, and sensory needs of our students on the autism spectrum, empowering them to thrive,” says Vesna Grujicic, Principal of Transformation Academy.

The Vocational Room helps students acquire functional academic and living skills while developing vocational skills through job sampling on campus in simulated work environments, shadowed internships in the community, and competitive employment. Some skills students have learned in this new space include food preparation, sorting items, and cleaning.

We want to continue to create more spaces like the career center and the vocational room for students across all our schools and programs. With your support, we can ensure our students are set up to be successful in school and for the rest of their lives. Donate today: www.childrensguild.org/give