For the entire month of June, the classrooms and halls of Richland Road Elementary School in Auburn are alive with the sounds of laughter and music as a unique blend of students and teachers (and even bus drivers!) dance and sing, work on academic and social skills, and engage in lively group activities and special projects.
The Auburn University summer program for students with disabilities represents an innovative collaboration between the College of Education’s Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Counseling (SERC) and the school systems of Auburn City and Lee County.
“The main focus of the summer program is to provide an Extended School Year (ESY) program for students with disabilities at risk for regression and recoupment of academic and social skills during school breaks,” said Dr. Doris Hill, director of the program and Assistant Research Professor at the Center for Disability Research and Service. “It is also an intense practicum placement for undergraduate and graduate students who train the week before on evidence-based practices prior to program implementation.”
New to this year’s collaboration is the addition of master’s students from the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts. These students have an academic focus on Applied Behavior Analysis, which they can use in a clinical setting in the summer program. They work under the supervision of Dr. Sacha Pence. The psychology students provide coaching for SERC’s special education undergraduates in behavior analytic strategies for working with public school students with behavioral challenges, typically students with an autism diagnosis. Behavior analysts develop individual programming for students to teach appropriate behaviors and reduce behaviors that are inappropriate or unsafe. Hill and Pence established this collaboration to foster partnerships between pre-service teachers and behavior analysts and to conduct research in this area.
“While we have a lot of good structure and a strong basis for research in this program, we are also giving the children an opportunity to develop their social and academic skills and have fun doing so,” Hill explained. “Our rooms are separated by age and ability groups. We typically have three teachers in each room, working with eight or nine children. And these teachers really break the mold! A lot of love develops between these teachers and students and I admire the dedication and enthusiasm of everyone involved. Every one of our bus drivers has developed relationships with their kids, as well. They could just sit outside and check their phones, but they come into the classroom and get as involved as anyone. This is truly a devoted group of instructors engaged in very meaningful work.”
“Our special education pre-service teachers are gaining valuable experience from this program, which is important for their long-range careers,” Hill said. “It is well-known that special education teachers suffer from a high burnout rate. We hope that learning from experienced educators, and gaining insight into behavior analytic strategies in the classroom, will not only help them become better teachers, but also help enable them to remain in the field for their entire careers. Autism diagnoses have skyrocketed, and we believe that every child deserves a great school experience. We are here helping to make that happen.”