Berks County teachers make house calls to serve special needs students

Written by on November 18, 2020

Berks County teachers make house calls to serve special needs students

By Chloe Nouvelle

November 18, 2020

Photo | Chloe Nouvelle / WLVR

Students with special needs have additional challenges when it comes to learning in a virtual environment. As WLVR’s Chloe Nouvelle reports, a group of teachers in Berks County are going the extra mile to help kids where they live.

In a typical multiple disability support, or MDS classroom, school is a team sport, with classroom sizes you can count on one hand and a teacher count to match.

Heather Fisher is a special education teacher at Lauer’s Park Elementary in Reading. She says the MDS classroom model doesn’t translate online.

“I cannot sit at my house knowing that these kids aren’t learning and not do anything about it,” said Fisher.

Before 2020, her classroom was hands-on, providing students a lot of one-on-one attention and personal instruction. 

But the pandemic closed her school and made all of Reading’s kids remote.

“We started virtually, and it just wasn’t working. The first couple of weeks were really difficult. We had a pretty intense schedule; they were online a lot. And I just started noticing my kids start to shut down, not participate, have meltdowns, and I wasn’t getting anywhere,” said Fisher.

Fisher and other MDS teachers asked Special Education Director Siobhan Leavy if they could go out and try to safely teach in-person.

“It didn’t take me one second to decide that this was a good idea. I mean, the families that these teachers are serving are children with really complex needs. And in my opinion, for what it’s worth, these are families that should have the red carpet rolled out for them,” said Leavy.

After consulting with the district’s medical team, securing personal protective equipment and, in Fisher’s case, getting kids their own clean, individual supplies lined up in the trunk of her own car, Reading green-lit the teachers’ idea. 

Fourth grader Josmeily Rosario’s front porch became Ms. Fisher’s classroom. Her mom, Darleys Valerio, welcomed her with distanced open arms.

“I’m beyond grateful for them for doing that for her and for the other kids that they are able to visit,” said Valerio.

Eight-year-old Josmeily sees Fisher and her bag of teaching supplies three days a week.

“She craves that one-on-one; she craves to touch things; she craves to see things.”

Josmeily has a rare genetic condition that causes significant developmental delays and epilepsy — a seizure disorder. Fisher says she needs hands-on instruction. 

“It affects her brain severely. So she really needs that hands-on, those things that she can touch and manipulate because she needs that repetition, that reinforcement to keep the skills that she’s learning in and keep them in her brain and keep them current and keep them going,” said Fisher.

But as the seasons change in Pennsylvania, outdoor meetups may become a bigger challenge.

Valerio says she’s concerned.

“We have talked about it. We’re hoping that the weather doesn’t get too bad— that’s part of our plan, that the weather doesn’t get too bad,” said Valerio.

Reading district Special Education Director Siobhan Leavy says for now the visits will stay on schedule.

“If it’s a day where we would do outside recess in the building, that’s a day that we could go out. And, you know, the teachers could go out and provide instruction to the family. So I’m sure there always will be weeks where that’ll be challenging. But, you know, I think our families are — they’re hooked, our teachers are hooked.”

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