Get Moving!

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month and a great time to renew your commitment to a healthy, active lifestyle. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activities Among Youth, youth need 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day where they live, learn, and play. In addition to physical health benefits, regular activity provides cognitive health benefits as well. Research shows that when children are physically active, they achieve higher grades, record better attendance, and their behavior improves. Put simply, active kids do better.

I am always looking for information on expanding physical activities for our students. This past summer, I came across the Achilles Run to Learn Program. Developed in 1995 by Achilles International, the program consists of a series of physical and educational activities that integrate educational challenges and games with running, walking, rolling, or other forms of movement to encourage and motivate children to participate in regular physical activity.

It is based on a real 26.2 marathon, but done virtually. In a year-long gym activity, children do a number of laps each week. The laps are counted and converted into miles, and then charted as a 26.2 mile route on a map of their town. While the children are tackling the long-term accomplishment of completing the marathon, they are also realizing short-term achievements based on meeting weekly goals. The program goes far beyond the physical accomplishment of achieving their distance goals, however. It incorporates educational and physical activities as well.

A group of our students receiving their Achilles shirts, medals and sneakers.

A group of our students receiving their Achilles shirts, medals and sneakers.

I reached out to Achilles International to find out how we could become one of the 200+ schools in the U.S. participating. Their staff was very helpful and we were soon completing our application. Fast-forward nine months, and we have 123 students who have completed their first full marathon! Each student receives an Achilles t-shirt, medal, AND brand new running shoes! Best of all, this is all at no cost to our school.

Another opportunity happening at the BNI (Erie and Warren, PA) this summer is the Learn to Ride Bike Camp. For 4 consecutive Saturdays, students will work towards a checklist of independent bike riding skills, including: Stop with control using brake, turning right and left with wide turns, riding with only one hand, how to do a figure 8, hand signals, quick stops, how to pump tires and how to clean/oil the chain. Designed for children who have not been successful in learning to ride a 2-wheeler, this program is funded by the Dr. Gertrude Barber Foundation. For further information on how to enroll, call 878-5638.

It’s been a fun, active, and fit school year for the ELBS students and I look forward to what’s in store for next year!

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Early Intervention – It Works!

When I read that the 2015 theme for Better Hearing and Speech Month was “Early Intervention Counts,” I thought back to Ryan as a toddler and some of the challenges he experienced. I knew that Ryan was experiencing delays in his expressive language, but felt that his receptive skills were on par. So, I reached out one of our Early Intervention speech therapists, Kathy Voght, MA SLP. Kathy suggested that I maintain a list of his expressive language and as he acquired new words, simply add to it. She also recommended that he enroll in one of her toddler language groups. So Ryan was 15 months and off to school! DOC052615-05262015084458_002

Yes, Early Intervention was exactly what he needed. The structured play groups, led by the therapists, provided him multiple opportunities to engage in conversations with his peers. Kathy also provided me with lots of suggestions as to how I could stimulate his speech at home. Between the two, we were well on our way to success.

Over the years, I have always encouraged families who have identified delays to reach out to Early Intervention providers and to get their child involved as early as possible. To this end, the Barber National Institute offers Bright Beginning, a program for children ages birth to three who are experiencing developmental delays. We also offer preschool early intervention programs, for children three to five years of age.DOC052615-05262015084458_001

Today, Ryan engages me in conversation all the time, and although I certainly have moments throughout my day where I wish for a little “quiet time,” I wouldn’t trade my conversations with him for anything!

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Better Hearing and Speech Month!

I love any chance I get to highlight our wonderful staff. As this month is Better Hearing and Speech Month, I wanted to again share the thoughts of our Speech Language Pathologists, with a few updates.

~ Maureen


Since May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, I thought it would be fun to pose some questions to our Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) and share their responses with you.

Our talented SLP team includes Amy Moczulski, Danielle Herbe, Danielle Kirsch, Emily Landkrohn, Pam Goetz, Jill Brugger (not pictured) and Stephanie Rose Briggs.

Amy Moczulski

Amy Moczulski

What is the most rewarding about being a SLP?

  • Seeing a child make gains because of the services you are providing
  • Seeing the excitement on a student’s face when they are successful in communicating something that they weren’t able to before
  • The moment when I see the light in the child’s eyes because they just realized they can communicate
  • Interacting with the families of my students and hearing parents talk about the gains and successes that their child has achieved.
Emily Landkrohn

Emily Landkrohn

What are some of the challenges?

  • Juggling time with therapy sessions, paperwork, meetings, makeup sessions and billing.
  • Discovering what the best access method is for each individual to allow him or her to be the most successful in accessing and using various augmentative and alternative communication devices.
  • Staying current with everything new and promising in the field without losing sight of solid, tried and true therapy techniques and materials.

    Danielle Kirsch

    Danielle Kirsch

  • There is never enough time in the work day to devote to my students and their many needs.
  • Each student is unique and the way that they communicate reflects that. It’s awesome to have a wide range of augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) systems, everything from the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to high-tech dynamic display devices!

What would you say to encourage others to work in this field?

  • Communication is one of the most powerful tools that we have to use in life to convey our thoughts, opinions and beliefs and to relate to the world and people around us.
    Danielle Herbe

    Danielle Herbe

    Having a career that helps people of all ages improve their communication makes a positive difference in the world and the lives of others.

  • One of the best aspects of being a SLP is how rewarding it can be in making a positive difference in the lives of both children and adults. There are many different settings and needs so it’s exciting to have many options.
  • This is a profession in which you can truly feel that you have made a difference in many children’s lives.

    Stephanie Rose Briggs

    Stephanie Rose Briggs

  • There are many reasons. SLPs have many options in choosing a population and a setting. Regardless of which career path you choose the end result is the same. You are providing therapy to individuals to improve their communication skills and to reach their fullest potential.
  • Therapy requires expertise and knowledge across a broad range of needs: cognitive, physical functionality, emotional, behavioral and medical. Just as important, however, a therapist should embody a genuine enjoyment of every student and the belief that each has the potential to be successful.

Our students demonstrate a variety of significant communication and swallowing disorders, so Speech-Language Pathologists are critical members of our team. We are so fortunate to have these ladies working with our BNI family. It takes a special person who both thrives on challenges of working with a diverse population and who also enjoys working closely with families.

Thank you for your dedication and hard work!

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Voting in the Disability Community

Ryan and I began our day as usual.

VoteUp at 5:30 a.m. and drove over to LECOM by 6 a.m. However, we had one important addition to our morning routine — we voted! As soon as Ryan turned 18, he registered to vote and has been voting in each and every election since then. We’ve discussed the importance of voting, and why you should never, ever miss. Prior to the election, we review the ballot and discuss the various responsibilities of each of the positions being voted on. He is always especially interested in the judgeships because he knows that only lawyers can be judges, and his Uncle Thomas was a judge. Of course, there is also his fascination with Law & Order!

The latest US Census estimates that one in five Americans live with a disability or chronic condition. That’s over 56 million! Despite this very large percentage of our population, little is known about their voting habits. However, in May of 2013, a group called the Youth Transitions Collaborative conducted a survey to look at the voting patterns, habits and political views of people with disabilities. The results were published July 2013 and titled, “Power in Numbers: A Profile of American Voters with Disabilities.”

The findings, which were relatively unknown, revealed very interesting and potent information about this community. Nearly 70% are registered — this is close to the national average of 72%. And over 80% say that a candidate’s record on supporting programs and services for people with disabilities is “somewhat or very important,” so much so that they would consider voting against a candidate who was in favor of cuts to these programs/services.

The potential strength of the disability community at the polls is significant, and growing. The study also showed that younger individuals with a disability (ages 18-30) were more likely to act on issues affecting them and even more apt to vote.

With funding always in jeopardy, it is important to continue to make our elected officials aware of the serious issues facing persons with disabilities. Advocacy is an essential part of this process; we must keep our issues front and center.

Every vote matters! Let your voice be heard!

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Celebrating Nurses!

Nurses have always played an important role in my life. My grandfather was the first male nurse at St. Vincent Hospital, and went on to become a physician. On the other side of my family, my Aunt Marion (Dr. Barber’s sister) was the Director of Nursing by day at St. Vincent, and at night was the caregiver of neighbors in need on Erie’s East side (then known as “Kingtown.”)

Aunt Marion was certainly a mentor for my late sister JoAnne, who knew that she wanted to be a nurse even as a preteen. To my Dad, a nursing degree meant that JoAnne could not go to St. Mary’s College, but she could go to Georgetown. JoAnne loved being the Litchfield school nurse, and often shared stories of helping children and families.


Kathy Babins and Ellen Danowski

And so, as we bring to a close Nurse’s Appreciation Week I’d like to take a moment to recognize the Elizabeth Lee Black School nurses, Ellen Danowski and Kathy Babins. I know that we are fortunate to have such dedicated, caring nurses in our school. Ellie and Kathy can always be counted on to respond to student’s medical needs calmly, with expert nursing care and a smile.

ELBS is unique in that we educate students from 22 school districts, many of whom have multiple, complex disabilities that require special treatments. Sadly, many of our students have seizure disorders, so it’s rare for a day to pass without a “Code Red” – which calls our nurses to a child’s location for emergency treatment. Of course, our nurses complete semi-annual height, weight, and eye assessments along with dental exams, in addition to the numerous demands throughout their day.

The health and safety of our children are paramount. Thus, they constantly communicate with our team, our families and other medical providers to ensure continuity of care. When I asked Ellie and Kathy about their role at the ELBS, they commented:

“Working at the Elizabeth Lee Black School is a very rewarding experience. Everyday, we have the pleasure of working with amazing children. Being able to help the students at ELBS is very satisfying and watching them leave our office with a smile makes it worth coming to work everyday. There is no job that can compare.”

On behalf of our students and faculty, thank you Ellie and Kathy for everything you do to help make dreams come true for our children and their families.

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Mother’s Day Thoughts

Last year, I shared some of Ryan’s touching responses when asked about “his mom.” I reflected on these this past Sunday, and thought they were so sweet that I wanted to share them again.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day!

~ Maureen


As I was planning my blog for Mother’s Day, I thought, “Why don’t I ask for Ryan’s input?” Last night, while he was having dessert, I asked the question, “Tell me about your mom.” The following are his (unedited) responses:

“You look pImageretty.

You let me do fun things.

You paid for me to go skiing.

You take me out to dinner.

You are nice because you help me and other people a lot.

You take me to movies.

You are kind and merciful because you help me with clothes, made my bed, help kids get bikes at Barber Center.

You taught me to be kind and merciful and the importance of helping God every day by helping others.

You help me out a lot.

You work out with me at LECOM and Build Your Bod and play tennis and golf and bowling.

You taught me how to fold clothes, do things, to cook, be safe.

You made me go to school and I learned there how to get a job.

You helped me learn how to interact with people.

You helped me to learn to do emails by myself and find the internet.

You helped me learn how to behave by helping me understand what I was allowed to do and not allowed.

You went to school a long time so you know a lot of things about school that you could then teach me.

You think that family is important, I get to enjoy them and you taught me they are important too.

You taught me how to work hard and try hard and put my best effort to everything I do.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you! You are very important to me. I am very grateful to have you in my life.

Thank you for everything you have done for me. I would not want anyone else to be my mom.”

by Ryan Carey

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Happy Mother’s Day!


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