By Jennifer Kotila
MEEKER, WRIGHT COUNTY, MN Meeker & Wright Special Education Cooperative (MAWSECO) has added another program to meet unique student needs for their member districts.
The program, Trek, which means a “long hard journey,” has been developed over the course of three years, said Special Education Director Allyson Kuehn.
Students enrolling in the Trek program have been identified as having severe communication and neurological disorders, along with behaviors making it difficult for these students to remain in the regular school setting. Most have been identified as having autism, Kuehn said.
The main purpose of this program is to work in a very small and specialized setting, in and effort to increase the skills and positive behaviors of the students so that they may return to their home district, Kuehn explained.
Staff available to the program includes a supervisor, speech language pathologist, behavior specialist, autism consultant, and occupational therapist.
Related service providers are also added, as needed, to support the individual student’s needs.
The Trek team was able to form and meet this summer to take part in specialized and ongoing training to best meet the needs of the students.
Each team member has a unique role. For instance, the speech language pathologist may work directly with the students, but she will also support staff by making picture schedules and supporting communication or a communication device.
Weekly meetings take place to monitor the progress of each student, allowing the Trek team the time and resources they need to increase student skills.
Right now, their are three students in the Trek program, which is based at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) Middle School.
The program serves students from any of the MAWSECO school districts, which includes Dassel-Cokato, HLWW, Delano, Litchfield, Annandale, Maple Lake, and Rockford.
The supervisor of the Trek program, Jean Wirz, explained how the program is implemented and how it helps students.
The goal of the program is to first work with the students to find out the triggers for their behaviors.
After the students’ behaviors are better understood, staff help to change the behaviors so students can interact in a regular school setting and not be disruptive to other students, Wirz said.
A regular school setting for the students with disabilities and behavior issues may be in a regular classroom, or in a small group, she explained.
“It really depends on the student and his or her needs when a decision is made as to what type of setting works best for the student,” Wirz said.
Paraprofessionals are assigned to work one-on-one with students throughout the day.
Paraprofessionals switch students periodically so students get accustomed to working with different individuals, Wirz explained.
At this time, there is one teacher for the Trek program. Since the program calls for a student/teacher ratio of 3:1, another teacher will be added if more students enroll in the program.
Although students of any age can enroll in the Trek program, all the students currently served are middle-school age.
Students enrolled in the Trek program start in the general education or home school setting.
After the school or the students’ parents have attempted to use all the resources they have to deal with behavior issues displayed by the student to no avail, students are referred to the program by their individual education plan (IEP) team, Wirz explained.
When first enrolled in the Trek program, the IEP team meets weekly to plan the program specific to that student.
Wirz anticipates that younger and older students will be referred to the program as time passes.
Tools and resources used by Trek
The Trek program focuses on building positive behaviors, communication skills, academic skills, and social skills, Wirz said.
Throughout the program, there are many tools and resources used.
Some of the tools used in the program are visual queues, as opposed to verbal, when working with the students.
Many of the students who are in or will be referred to the program have communication deficits and don’t always understand the verbal queues given them, Wirz explained.
Visual queues help with the behaviors of the students in the program. They give the students a visual understanding of what is expected of them, what they are being asked to do, or what comes next.
Tasks for students are broken down step-by-step, using visual queues in task, or teach, boxes.
Teach boxes are designed to break down instructional units into smaller units and have manipulatives or pictures to help the student demonstrate learning, Wirz explained. An example would be matching colors, shapes, or words to a picture.
Other tools used by the Trek program are augmentative or alternative communication devices that help the students communicate.
For example, some students may use a talker, which is an electronic device with speech output and with pictures that students can touch to communicate with others, Wirz explained.
Other examples of alternative communication are sign language and a picture exchange system students use to make choices or express their needs.
The sensory room at the HLWW Middle School is also an important tool for the Trek program, Wirz said.
When a student is first enrolled in the Trek program, his or her schedule is broken into 5-minute to one half-hour increments.
Many students visit the sensory room frequently when they begin the program, Wirz said.
As their behaviors are better understood and controlled, students’ instructional time will become longer and more frequent than sensory room time, she explained.
One of the more important resources used by the Trek program is a behavior analyst, according to Wirz.
The behavior analyst studies each student’s behaviors to understand what triggered the behavior, what the behavior is, and the consequences of the behavior.
After the behavior has been studied and is better understood, changes are made to prevent negative behaviors that affect the student’s ability to interact with adults and peers, explained Wirz.
Other resources for the program are occupational and physical therapists who help the students learn to be more independent.
The program also utilizes the help of an autism consultant for students diagnosed with autism.
For more information, contact your local school district, or contact MAWSECO at (320) 286-2129.