Wrapping Up School Choice Week

The Elizabeth Lee Black School has always been a place where each and every one of our students are celebrated for his or her unique talents and contributions while being given the opportunity to pursue his or her full potential. As we come to a close on School Choice Week, we learn more about the many aspects of our school that students love so much. Here are some additional pieces of artwork students at the Elizabeth Lee Black School made this week. The Elizabeth Lee Black School is one of a kind, and we are so happy to support our incredible students!

Twilight loves that she is celebrated for her unique talents and contributions at the Elizabeth Lee Black School.
James loves interacting with his teacher and peers along with the enrichment activities available at the Elizabeth Lee Black School.

Jose loves therapy and support services as well as interactive learning activities available at the Elizabeth Lee Black School.
Ryan loves the opportunity to take part in fun and enriching activities, including drawing, while at the Elizabeth Lee Black School.
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School Choice Week Continues

School Choice Week is always an exciting time to learn about what aspects of the Elizabeth Lee Black School our students love so much. From the adaptive playground equipment, which allows for enrichment of our students, to the opportunity to interact with their teachers and friends through hands-on learning, our students showcase their love for the Elizabeth Lee Black School through their artwork. Here are a few examples of students’ artwork created for School Choice Week!

X’yone loves the hands-on learning activities offered at the Elizabeth Lee Black School.
Johnny and Julianni enjoy the friendship they have developed at the Elizabeth Lee Black School.
Diego loves his teachers, the food, and the pool at the Elizabeth Lee Black School.
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Celebrate School Choice

Great students and great schools deserve a celebration. From Hawaii to Erie to New York City, America will light up in yellow and red to raise awareness about K-12 education opportunities during National School Choice Week, January 23-29.

Starting today, National School Choice Week is the largest ever celebration of opportunity in K-12 education… Millions are participating in over 50,000 events and activities from coast to coast.

This week is inclusive, positive and welcoming with the theme of raising awareness of all educational options: public, charter, private, magnet, online and homeschooling. The goal is that families can find schools and learning environments that best meet the needs of their children and parents can be part of the decision-making process.

One of the favorite activities of our students is responding to the question, “Why do I like my school?” Check out their responses over the next few days. The responses are as different and unique as our children. Some write their responses, others use pictures. It’s a joy to read each child’s comments.

School choice week acknowledges the importance of choosing a school based upon a student’s learning preference whether it be Montessori, traditional, or virtual learning. My and our school’s motto is that if a student is not learning, it is our responsibility as teachers and administrators to determine how the student does learn. Many children come to us after failing in their previous education environments, and it is up to us to determine how to teach him/her for success.

Be sure to watch for pictures of National School Choice Week at the Elizabeth Lee Black School! Our school is one of a kind…The BEST!

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A Look Back at 2021!

It has been a challenging year!

We remain committed to “stay in school” barring COVID cases.  We have closed individual classrooms based on COVID but fortunately have not needed to close the school.  Many if not most of our staff were vaccinated in our clinics in January and February and with the ability to vaccinate children now from 5 and up, we are seeing more of our student body vaccinated.  When we do quarantine, we move to virtual instruction.  I am very proud of our school team who have become “experts” at virtual instruction.  Currently we are investigating the opportunity for in- school testing funded by Pennsylvania Department of Education.  I will keep you informed as to how this develops.

Grants have been a wonderful opportunity for us!  We have received funding from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, the Childcare stabilization program, the Governor’s Emergency Education and Relief and Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools.  This has allowed us to make numerous facilities improvements, provide funds for premium pay, recruitment and retention, Personal Protective Equipment, an Outdoor classroom, Smartboards, technology, and technology infrastructure.

Our collaborations have continued. In the General McClane School District we offer a therapeutic Elementary classroom, and an Autism Support classroom which has allowed their students to remain in district and receive intensive supports from BNI staff.  Our Early Intervention Therapeutic Program is housed at Emerson Gridley and meeting the needs of three- to five-year-old children who have some intense therapeutic needs. We are consulting with the Titusville School District with their student who require multidisciplinary support and students with Autism.  I hope to continue to expand our collaborations so that we can provide the expertise and intensive support from BNI staff within the neighborhood schools of school districts.

Family engagement has increased as we frequently have daily contact with families on Teams and are able to demonstrate skills during remote sessions and in person instruction.  Families often “jump on” teams and interact with their children.  As a parent expressed to me” This is the most wonderful experience.  I can see what my child can do and what I need to do to help him learn.”

So, yes there have been struggles with COVID but I am proud of our staff, our students and our families who are meeting these challenges every day.  2022 will be a very good year!

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A Heartfelt Thank You

As we “wrap up” 2021, I plan to take a two-week hiatus in writing and will return the week of January 17.

In the meantime, I‘d like to express my thanks to each and every one of you for your commitment  to the Barber National Institute. In this year of so many challenges, your support has been constant and continuous.

We are so fortunate to have you part of our Barber National Institute Family!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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Christmastime: Past and Present

Christmas was always an important day in the Barber household.

As Christmas is now only three days away, I began thinking of Christmas past……

Mother LOVED decorating the house for Christmas and she would take days if not weeks to complete her decorating.

And, yes, we had lots of Christmas birthdays. Joe’s birthday is Christmas, mine is the 27th and JoAnne’s was the 3rd. Since we were close in age, we always had one large birthday party and for many years it was at Evan’s Skateland on West 8th Street.

On Christmas day we would go to Church at St. Peter’s after opening our presents. Then it was on to, as my father called it, the Barber ranch/family home. Santa (Uncle John) always made an appearance. We believed in Santa until we were quite old as we knew that it wasn’t possible for our parents to buy us birthday AND Christmas presents!

Once we were teenagers, we began going to Midnight Mass and then on to our great friend, Louise Behringer’s home for brunch. Looking back, I can’t even imagine brunch at 1:30 AM! But we did!

Our Christmas’ changed as we finished college and some of us moved out of town. However, you could always count on mother decorating every corner of the house and having a “live.” tree. So, fast forward until today.

Christmas Eve may be very different again this year. We usually attend mass at 5 PM at St. Patrick’s. We always get there by 4 PM (at the latest) to be sure that we have a seat with Aunt Jeanne. This year, we may be watching virtually. I am concerned about omicron and the large group of unmasked attendees. But Ryan does love entertaining family and cheffing (as he calls it). But this year, he will be “cheffing” for only close family. He is already looking forward to Christmas 2022…and so am I!

Ryan and I decorated the house early this year since COVID-19 is all around us; we wanted to smile. So early November on a 60-degree day, I said, let’s decorate outside…and by November 10, the exterior was a sea of red Christmas bows and decorations! The next step was indoors, as we could use more smiles! We finished on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, purchasing a “live” tree, as always, and decorating it with over a hundred Christmas bulb memories. Ryan enjoys hearing stories of his very first Christmas bulbs and gifts from our friends from over the years. Each year he receives 3 Christmas gifts as Baby Jesus did – a golf pass, ski pass, and waterworld pass.

I hope that your Christmas is filled with much joy and happiness.

Stay safe and healthy.

Merry Christmas!

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Recent Advances in Autism Research in the U.S.

Today, I thought that I would highlight some of the latest research that we are seeing on autism.

Last spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that among 8-year-old children, one in 54 has autism. This is an increase from the 1:59 prevalence reported in previous studies. This increase has spurred the scientific community to explore some of the factors linked with autism as well as treatment options.

In an analysis of DNA from more than 35,000 people, including 11,900 persons with autism, scientists identified variants in 102 genes linked with an increased probability of developing autism. Persons who carried this variant showed increased intellectual functioning compared to those who did not. The gene variants mainly reside in the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for complex behaviors.

The U.S. government funded a study to explore whether a synthetic form of oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain, might promote sociality in children with autism. Prior experiments in mice had suggested that the hormone might have similar effects in children with autism. In this study with 300 children ages 3-17 with autism, the children received daily squirts of nasal spray or an inactive ingredient for several weeks. Small improvements occurred in both groups, but no meaningful impact.

Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) is the largest multi-year study in the U.S. to help identify factors that put children 2-5 years of age at risk for ASD and other developmental disabilities. Understanding the risk factors will help us learn more about the cause. So far, over 7,100 children and their parents are enrolled across all sites/states. An additional 2,000 children and parents are expected to enroll.

The research goals include learning about:

  • Physical and behavioral characteristics of children with ASD and other developmental disabilities as well as children without a disability.
  • Health conditions and disorders among children with and without ASD.
  • Factors associated with a child’s risk for developing ASD. These factors may be related to genes, health conditions, experiences of the mother during pregnancy, and the health and development of the child during infancy and the first few years of life.

Current sites are in Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin, Georgia, and North Carolina.

For further information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/seed.html.

Looking back over the last 25 years, it’s truly amazing what we have learned about ASD. I can only imagine what we will learn in the next 25 years.

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Preparations for COVID-19 Testing: Things to Consider

Because of the increased prevalence of COVID-19 in our community, many are finding the need to get tested. I thought that it would be helpful to consider as few ways to prepare your child.

  • Discuss the test with your child. Find out in advance whether you will need to wait in line or if you can do a drive thru. Explain the process step by step. If a nasal swab is used, learn how far it will go up the nose and how long the swab must be in the nose. If the test lasts 5 seconds, do a countdown.
  • Let your child know that it might hurt a bit, but only for a short time. Explain why we are doing this: to stay healthy.
  • Develop a social story about the process. This might be in pictures or words, depending on your child’s ability level. Begin to read the story a few days prior to the appointment.
  • Determine an activity that your child can do while being swabbed – watching a video, playing with a favorite toy, something to distract him or her.

This can be an experience that for many children will create great anxiety, so preparation is the key. Ryan and I have not had to be tested, but I plan to go through these steps with him…just in case.

Stay safe and healthy!

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A Birthday Celebration! Happy 28th, Ryan!

Is it possible? Ryan is turning 28 tomorrow! This is one of those special days where I love to take a moment to reflect on my journey with Ryan. I enjoy looking at his pictures that remind me of some of our “momentous” occasions, and I thought I’d share a few with you as well.

Looking back, his first few weeks and months seemed like a blur. I do recall that on his 3-month birthday, he slept through the night for the very first time. What a great birthday gift! Around the same time, I enrolled Ryan in our Happy Hearts Infant child care program. Knowing that he was just down the block from my office was a great comfort, as I’m sure any first-time parent understands. There were many days that I “lunched” with Ryan…great fun!

Ryan’s first birthday

Not long after that he was celebrating his first birthday with his “classmates” at Happy Hearts.

Ryan was around 14 months when I recognized that his expressive language wasn’t developing as rapidly as his receptive language. Based upon my professional experience, I knew that it was time for a speech evaluation, which led us to joining a toddler language group.

Ryan did not make the gains that we hoped for, so I spoke with my brother Joe Barber, MD, a pediatric neurologist, about my continued concerns. It was Joe who then gave Ryan a diagnosis of autism. Our journey had begun……

As I look back on the past 28 years of this journey, with its peaks and valleys, I’m very proud of who Ryan is, how he has grown and matured, and his numerous successes along the way. Today, his days are busy, divided between maintenance work at Bello’s Market and BNI. Before and after work, you’ll find him running 60 minutes depending on the season, lifting weights, or doing any of his favorite sports, including golf, skiing, and bowling.

Ryan has achieved so much because I set my expectations for him high and always believed that he would reach them. Of course, there have been bumps on the road and I know that they will always continue. But I continue to believe that anything is possible. After all, as Audrey Hepburn said: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible!’”

In closing, I am truly grateful for my family, my friends (especially Jeanne) and the outstanding people who have loved him, nurtured him, taught him, and supported him on a daily basis. Thanks to each and every one of you – we couldn’t have done it without you!

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A Journey of Gratitude

As we plan to gather for Thanksgiving this year, I know that we as a nation continue to face many challenges, first and foremost COVID-19. However, I do believe that each of us have much to be thankful for.  The poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and give thanks continuously.”

I started thinking, how frequently do I practice gratitude outside of a holiday? Personally, I must admit, not enough.  So, I did a bit of research on the impact of gratitude and learned:

 Gratitude encourages giving and giving encourages more gratitude and the circle continues…the pay it forward concept.

 Persons who practice gratitude are more empathetic and helpful to their fellow employees which can create a positive culture in the workplace.

 Gratitude can help improve sleep.  This is something that I practice when I cannot fall asleep. I think of all that I have to be grateful for, and yes, sleep comes quickly.

 Gratitude can also help improve your physical health, including memory, blood pressure and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and cortisol levels.

If you are worrying now, as I am, that you are not experiencing gratitude as much as you should, there are ways you can “cultivate” gratitude in your life.

These are a few of the actions that Ryan and I are taking:

– We are resurrecting the gratitude journal he began last year.  Each morning after breakfast he writes something he is grateful for. He loved this and he filled a notebook, but then we got busy. Oh well, it’s time to resurrect it.

 Write thank you notes (Ryan writes emails) to people who do an act of kindness for him.  I find that people love getting a handwritten mailed note, especially in these times when social connections are so limited.

 Have positive notes somewhere in your office/home that makes you stop and feel gratitude.  We post a note on our refrigerator. Every time we open the door it makes us stop and think what we are grateful for. We are grateful for so much, including our health, our community, our family, our creative and committed staff, our organization, our country….yes, the list could go on forever!

So, what are you grateful for?????

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ryan and Maureen

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