Archive for the ‘Special Education’ Category


School psychologists are key to student success

If there’s one thing Ina Nyko would like you to know about school psychologists, it’s that they do a lot more than just evaluate students.

School psychologists work with both regular education and special education students in individual and group sessions to improve behavior and study habits. In other words, they can be the difference in whether certain students succeed or fail. “If a kid is not doing well, we meet with the student to find out, Why is that?” says Nyko, school psychologist at Broughton and Enloe high schools. “What’s going on in their world? Is there some kind of home or personal issue that is preoccupying them? What about mental health needs?”

National School Psychology Week runs today through Friday. It’s as good a time as any to be reminded of the key role psychologists play in WCPSS and in school districts everywhere.

There are about 95 full- and part-time psychologists in WCPSS. It works out to one psychologist for every two or three schools. Some are specialists, working with students with autism, say, or those who have suffered serious brain injuries.

Psychologists play a hands-on role with students. At Broughton, for example, Nyko works with groups of students who are struggling with organization and time management. After four to six weeks, the students usually are back on the right track. Psychologists like Nyko even go so far as to work with teachers to help students catch up on work they missed or even make up tests or reports.

She says appropriate behaviors are as or even more important than regular school attendance to a child’s success. Remove stumbling blocks such as anxiety and anger, and you’ll have a much happier and more successful student.

“Sometimes it’s also a matter of just giving them the confidence, a little push, to try some of those skills,” Nyko says.

Learn more about school psychologists by clicking HERE and HERE. And high-five your school psychologist today!


Inspiring STEM Students

Ed Summers was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease, in 1981 at the age of 10. He tried to hide his condition over the next 20 years, even as his vision continued to deteriorate.

“Throughout this period, I became increasingly ashamed and self-conscious,” Summers told a group of 6-12 graders Wednesday at the STEM Career Showcase for Students with Disabilities.  “As my vision decreased, my world got smaller.”

At age 30, he could no longer read print. To save his career and his marriage, “I had to accept the fact that I was going blind. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I had to find a way to adapt. I fought that decision tooth and nail for 20 years. But the root of the problem was not my failing vision. The problem was between my ears.  I equated blindness with failure. Yet failure is defined as refusing to acknowledge reality.”

So he looked to other successful people with visual impairments for inspiration.

“I knew if they could do it, I could do it,” Summers said. “I started spending less time worrying, and more time doing.”

Summers is now senior manager of accessibility and applied assistive technology at SAS. He shared his story at the STEM Showcase, which encourages students with disabilities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Watch the full video HERE.

All Hail Queen Gianna and King Jacob


Gianna and Jacob, third and fourth from left, at the Green Hope homecoming pep rally.

The worst-kept secret floating around Green Hope High School on homecoming Friday? The identities of the homecoming king and queen.

Often there’s buzz and speculation leading up to that fateful halftime ceremony, when the roses and sashes are finally dispensed and decades of tradition are honored.

But just about everyone at Green Hope that Friday, even as the whole homecoming court was trotted out during a pep rally, knew who would walk away with the crowns.

That is, except for the happy couple themselves, Gianna Giambalvo and Jacob Gutierrez. Happy being the operative word, because both were in happy-just-to-be-nominated mode.

“I’m not nervous,” Gianna said. “I’m pretty excited about it. It’s my dream.”

Since she started at Green Hope, Gianna, now a senior, showed interest in the homecoming king and queen tradition, peppering her sister, Nicolette, also a Green Hope senior, with questions about it.

“So I said to her this year, ‘Would you like to be nominated,'” Nicolette said. “She said, ‘Oh my gosh, yes.'”

So Nicolette did what all the kids do these days: She took to Twitter. Before long she had more than 1,000 retweets and favorites. Jacob’s little sister, Anna, got similar response to her Twitter campaign. For good measure, Nicolette walked down the halls calling out, “Who are you voting for for homecoming queen? Vote for my sister!”

And voila: Gianna and Jacob won in a landslide.

“This whole school has embraced them,” said Esther Giambalvo, Gianna’s mom. “The kids are great here.”

“It’s not what I expected,” Nicolette said of the outpouring of popular support from her classmates.

“I think it’s really nice that they know of their disability and say, ‘Of course I want them to win. It’ll make them so happy.'”

The H-word again.

Gianna and Jacob, who have Down’s Syndrome, have been friends since they met in 5th grade at Turner Creek and have, Nicolette says, “sort of dated.”

“Jacob is a very nice guy,” Nicolette said. “I love him.”

They were introduced last at the pep rally and got by far the biggest roar from the packed gymnasium. They beamed and blushed after completing their brief little dance out on the floor. They were happy, and yet it was just the prelude to their coronation that night, when they’d be let in on the secret everyone else already knew.

“She’s going to be talking about this,” Nicolette said, “for years.”

Click HERE and HERE for local media coverage of the happy event.

Click HERE to learn more about Disability History & Awareness Month at WCPSS and this year’s theme of “discoverability.”

The Tenacious Mrs. Black

There was a boy, we’ll call him M, who arrived at Apex Middle School an angry, troubled 6th grader. His anger manifested itself in all manner of outbursts that often got him removed from the classroom.

Enter Margie Black.

“He was very bright and musically inclined, but his behaviors impeded his academic performance,” says Margie, a special education teacher who’s spent 30 of her 40-year career at Apex middle. “M, from the first day at Apex Middle, demonstrated the behaviors he displayed at the elementary school. His teachers, administrators and I met with his grandmother. This was the beginning of a relationship between M, his grandmother and me that continues to this day.”

Margie developed a plan for M, providing him the additional help and resources he would need to overcome his emotional problems and succeed.

Fast forward a few years to Margie getting an invitation to attend M’s graduation from Apex High School. “You can imagine my joy,” Margie says. “M had overcome many adversities to attain this goal. As he proudly walked across the stage I had the image of the wiry, angry 6th grader who transformed into a tall, confident young man.”

M is one of thousands who Margie has helped in ways large and small in her 40 years in special education, 30 of which have been spent at Apex Middle School.

Camille Hedrick, the principal at Apex Middle until moving over to Panther Creek to serve as principal, says Margie puts in the time and effort required to best serve each student.

“She’s very specific to the individual child,” Camille says. “And that’s not easy. She reads every single file of every single special education kid. These are complicated files, often coming from multiple states, countries, schools. She knows the background on every single special education child in our building. She really does not believe in one size fits all.”

Longtime Apex Middle School teacher Margie Black reads with sixth-grader Brady Durkin.

Longtime Apex Middle School teacher Margie Black reads with sixth-grader Brady Durkin.

Margie says she’s had many of her students go off to college. She’s had a few that wound up in trouble with the law. And everything in between.
“I think the commonality is that they remember that I cared,” Margie says. “I was somebody they felt very confident that, if they needed something, they could come to Mrs. Black. My colleague, Lucy Bailey, and I like to say, ‘We’re on your shoulders, all the time, even when you leave us.’ They come back and say, ‘I heard you, I heard you.'”
Margie brings a mix of tough love and high energy to the classroom.

On a recent Monday morning, she bounded from student to student, whose needs ran the gamut from “I forgot to take this quiz” to “I can’t log into this computer” to “I just don’t feel like doing anything today.” In a matter of minutes, she had counseled and cajoled every student in the Curriculum Assistance class, setting them on a productive path.
“We celebrate success all the time,” Margie says.

“You saw [one student] who brought his glasses. We’ve been working for 20 days now; he’s brought them three times. You could see right away that was a big deal that he brought them. And we celebrated. We do measure success in minutiae sometimes. It’s not necessarily just academic success. It’s all the things the kids need to leave and be independent. We provide them with the tools to recognize their strengths. Maybe reading is really hard for them, but they have a lot of strengths they can utilize. We try to teach them how to figure it out for themselves when Mrs. Black’s not around anymore. We teach them to be self-advocates.”

Margie, of course, has seen the world of special education evolve many times over since her career began in Delaware in 1974. IEPs, for example, weren’t a thing back then, “so often times children were placed in programs without any real oversight.”

Margie has been a part of the movement to take “special education out of the basements and the boiler rooms and the little rooms to raise awareness within the school setting. Within that came all the laws to protect children, to make sure they were being identified and served appropriately.”

“People say, ‘You must have a lot of patience,'” Margie adds.

“I don’t know. I think I have a lot of tenacity. I really don’t give up.”

Baseball players and students with special needs team up for Field of Dreams

Students from eight northern Wake County high schools will compete in a fun day of baseball games on Friday, May 9, at The Factory in Wake Forest. This is the 7th year of the annual Field of Dreams event. Continue Reading . . .

Arc of Wake County recognizes teachers, bus assistant for Special Education work


Sherri Miller works with a student at an adapted P.E. event in March.

The Arc of Wake County will honor four WCPSS employees on Tuesday, May 6, for their work in Special Education.

Teacher of the Year
Sherri Miller, an Adapted P.E. Teacher, has been an educator for 17 years. She works with schools to ensure that all students have physical education adapted to their physical abilities and needs. Miller was nominated by Cherie Hampton. Continue Reading . . .

Phillips Students Finish Best in State Math Fair

Mary Phillips Math contest winners

     Back row L to R: Angelica Del Rosario Adriana Gutierrez DaChrisha Ramsey Michael Bowman Alexandra Gutierrez Isabel Hernandez Veronica Torres Front Row L to R: Math Teacher: Nicolle Martin Tiffany Jacobs

Back row L to R:
Angelica Del Rosario
Adriana Gutierrez
DaChrisha Ramsey
Michael Bowman
Alexandra Gutierrez
Isabel Hernandez
Veronica Torres
Front Row L to R:
Math Teacher: Nicolle Martin
Tiffany Jacobs

untitledMary Phillips Math contest winnersMary E. Phillips High School sent four students to the State Mathematics Fair sponsored by the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCCTM) held at The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, N.C.

Mary Phillips Math contest winners

The teams of Isabel Hernandez and Veronica Torres, as well as, DaChrisha Ramsey and Angelica Del Rosario, qualified for the State fair by placing third and second place, respectively, in the Eastern Regional Math Competition, which was held at Eastern Carolina University in Greenville N.C., on March 14, 2014.

On Friday May 2nd, the team of Isabel Hernandez and Veronica Torres finished 2nd place in the State Math Competition, High School Division.  There was no 1st place award given.  Although these students were given a second place finish, no other project placed higher in their division.  Therefore, Isabel and Veronica, proudly represent Mary E. Phillips High School, and Wake County, with the best Math project in the State of North Carolina in the High School Division, according to the NCCTM.

Mary E. Phillips went into the competition led by Math teacher Nicolle Martin, a first-year beginning teacher.

Schools, parents spread autism awareness in April


Students at Highcroft Drive ES create an Autism Awareness banner for their school.

Schools throughout the county participated in activities at school this spring to mark National Autism Awareness Month in April.

At Highcroft Drive Elementary School, about 25 parents organized a day of service learning for students.

Fifth-grade classes attended an assembly where teacher Megan Olmstead talked about experiences of students with autism, including communication barriers many face. Continue Reading . . .

Hundreds of students compete in Wake County Special Olympics


A Hilburn Academy student smiles as he approaches the finish line. (Allie Wilson/Ravenscroft School)

Hundreds of WCPSS students brought out their cleats, sneakers, banners, and signs to participate in the Wake County Special Olympics on April 23 and 24 at the Ravenscroft School in Raleigh. About 625 student athletes participated in track and field competition over the two-day event while their classmates, teachers, parents, and volunteers from WCPSS and Ravenscroft cheered them on. Continue Reading . . .

Three Special Education teachers honored for excellence, advocacy

Three WCPSS Special Education teachers will be honored with Lara Jane Parker Awards on Thursday, April 24.

img-ljpwinnersLara Jane Parker Excellence Awards will be presented to Cary Elementary Speech/Language Pathologist Jessica Lewis and Holly Springs Elementary Preschool Special Educator Sarah B. Williams.

The Lara Jane Parker – Talbot L. Black Advocacy Award will be presented to Heritage High School Special Educator Kimberly Morrisette. Continue Reading . . .