SERC summer program helps develop well-rounded Special Education teachers

July 13, 2016

SERC Summer Program StudentsThe Auburn University summer program for students with disabilities was held at Richland Road Elementary School in Auburn for the entire month of June. The program has been held every summer for the past several years.

Directed by Dr. Doris Hill, the program is an innovative collaboration between the College of Education’s Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Counseling (SERC), the Department of Psychology’s Applied Behavior Analysis program, and the school systems of Auburn City and Lee County. The program provides an Extended School Year (ESY) structure for students with disabilities at risk of regressing in their academic and social skills during school breaks.

Hill said 40 students with disabilities were enrolled in the program this summer. The ages ranged from pre-K to 14, and all of the students had significant needs with varying disabilities, including autism. This is a kind of parallel program to the one at Drake Middle School run by Ms. Kelly Brumbeloe Schweck, except that program is for students aged 15-adult.

“In addition to the likelihood of academic regression, many of our students have Behavior Intervention Plans,” Hill explained. “For example, if one of our students tries to escape his or her academic work, we focus on ways to reach a goal. They earn tokens for good behavior, but they must earn them. And we provide lots of visual supports to help them understand their day. We put a lot of emphasis on sequencing and setting up the program to promote appropriate behavior. We base the entire program around positive behavior interventions and supports. We focus on being positive, proactive, and professional.”

The idea of “sequencing” is typically tied to basic life skills, Hill said. For example, to teach a child how to make a sandwich, the first thing to do would be to get the supplies, such as bread and bologna. The next thing is to actually assemble the sandwich. And then finally, enjoy the sandwich and clean up afterward. Structured activities and consistent schedules are a big part of the day at Richland, as are visual supports that make the sequencing clear to supplement using traditional language as a way to communicate.

Academics, practicum experience, Applied Behavior Analysis all part of program

“The summer program also allows us to give practicum experience to undergraduate and graduate students,” Hill said. “We have 24 pre-service teachers in our program this year. Each pre-service teacher pulls three important Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals, and then works with the child either one-on-one or in small groups. This helps the university students learn to write goals, analyze data, and graph and measure progress. The parents and school get a copy of the report that explains the student’s work with the child.”

The university students, who are primarily majoring in Early Childhood, Elementary, and Collaborative Special Education, receive a one-week intensive training period prior to the one-month summer session. Hill and staff observe their work and provide feedback and instruction. This experience is a requirement for their ultimate teacher certification.

“We are also fortunate to have students from the Master’s program in Psychology from the College of Liberal Arts,” Hill said. “These emerging professionals have an academic focus on Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA. This discipline systematically applies interventions to help students (who often have behavioral challenges) learn appropriate behaviors and reduce inappropriate or unsafe behaviors. They work under the supervision of my colleague Dr. Sacha Pence. These students collaborate with our pre-service teachers as part of their capstone project, so it is a really great opportunity for collaboration for everyone involved. The ABA students presented during the intensive training, and collected baseline data on pre-service teachers and develop needed training for the university students who will ultimately teach children with autism and other developmental disabilities. In addition to being a huge help to our young students, that’s incredibly important to the future careers in the classroom of our pre-service teachers. It also gives the ABA student practice in interacting and collaborating with special education professionals.”

To learn more about the program, email Dr. Hill at