Starting the School Year Strong: Tips for a Successful Transition

I recently heard a Back-to-School ad on the TV and immediately thought, “Can it be time for this already?” Ryan graduated many years ago, but I can still recall how I felt as July turned into August and we began the back-to-school countdown. Ryan was always very anxious (and I was, too) so I learned over the years how I could help the both of us control our worry. Perhaps some of my ideas might help you and your child.


  • If your child is entering a new school, it is helpful to set up times prior to the start of school for your child to walk through the school building and locate his or her classroom. When Ryan was transitioning to middle school, we walked through the school and located his classroom, locker, restrooms, etc. to allay his anxiety about being in a new school. We even had an album of photos of the staff with whom he would interact.
  • Schedule an appointment with the principal – support of the administrative team is critical for a successful school year.
  • Similarly, request a team meeting prior to the start of school. I asked that all the teachers who would interact with Ryan attend as it is important that not only the classroom teacher but the ancillary staff become acquainted with his strengths and challenges.
  • Each year I created a handout describing what teaching methods and behavioral strategies were most successful with Ryan. I made sure that the team understood the importance of DOC043015-04302015100234_003setting the bar high by including a sample of his best work as well as his efforts when he lacked interest in the work he was doing.
  • Count down the days to the start of school so that your child is prepared for the transition from summer fun to school days. Bedtime and morning routines often change in the summer, so begin readjusting 2 weeks ahead of time so that your child gets used to getting up early and starting the day in a structured way.
  • Remain positive and calm about the new school year. Ryan could always sense my anxiety, which in turn made him become more anxious.

On another note, as some of you may know I particularly enjoy Maria Shriver’s concept of taking the month of August to step away from social media, blogging, and the digital world (as much as possible). I will resume my blogging in September! May you have a smooth and blessed start to the school year!

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An Experience of a Lifetime: Come Work at the Elizabeth Lee Black School!

Happy Summer!

As we are enjoying the waning days of July, we are very actively recruiting for staff for the Elizabeth Lee Black School.  We have a number of open positions:

  • Special Education Teachers (Full and Part time)
  • Para Educators/ Assistant Teachers (Full and Part time)
  • Nurse
  • Speech Therapist
  • Food Service Aide

Why should you consider us?

As a School of Excellence, we provide our students the most innovative, research-based techniques, strategies, and programming.

For you, our staff, we offer extensive training, professional development opportunities, and mentorships throughout the year.

We offer competitive wages, flexible scheduling for both full-time and part-time positions, and a generous benefits package that includes medical/dental/vision insurance, flexible spending accounts, discounted on-site weekly childcare, generous PTO plans, retirement savings, and employee discounts for select events and services.

You will be a part of an organization respected as a highly valued resource for world-class knowledge, education, training, consultation, and support throughout Erie and far beyond. 

All of our team are on site to answer your questions and help you meet your challenges throughout the day.

Most importantly, you will “love what you do” as you “make dreams come true for our students and families.”

More information can be found on our careers web page,

Give me a call and I can answer your questions.

It is an experience of a lifetime!

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Celebrating 32 Years of Progress Since Signing of Americans with Disabilities Act

Next Tuesday, we will celebrate a second independence day in July. Yes, less known, but just as important! On July 26th, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against all individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the community at large.

The ADA has helped millions of people with disabilities, their families, their friends, and society overall. We have seen many wonderful achievements since the passing of the ADA including, but not limited to:

  • Employers are required to give all qualified individuals equal opportunity in the workforce, regardless of any disability they may have. This is perhaps the greatest impact of the ADA.
  • Many physical accommodations have been implemented, such as the construction of curb cuts, ramps, automatic doors, public buses with wheelchair lifts, and countless forms of assistive technology.
  • There has been incredible growth in the overall community’s attitude and mindset regarding people with disabilities. No longer are persons with intellectual disabilities hidden away at institutions; rather, we hear more and more success stories every day about what people with disabilities are accomplishing. You will see some of those stories on our webpage,

These achievements were made possible because of the perseverance and persistence of the visionary advocates who were not satisfied with the status quo. Dr. Gertrude Barber shattered numerous “glass ceilings” in her lifetime, but July 26th was the pinnacle of her efforts. As a member of President Kennedy’s commission on Mental Retardation in the 60’s, she was involved in crafting initial legislation for the inclusion of persons with disabilities. She was invited to the White House by President George Bush to see this landmark legislation signed into law. She was so proud to be in attendance!

On July 26th, let us remember and thank those who fought for equal rights for persons with disabilities and honor them by living full lives in the community and maximizing every opportunity the ADA has made possible. The importance and need for advocacy in education, employment and community life can never be forgotten.

I have been asked about the post pandemic economic recovery of people with disabilities.  I researched this topic to learn that the employment population data of working people with disabilities actually increased from 30.2% in April of 2021 to 34% in April 2022.  The data reflects that the Great Resignation is largely a phenomenon among workers without disabilities as we see people with disabilities engaged in the labor market.

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ESY 2022: An Opportunity to Embrace a New Normal

It was so exciting to walk into school last week! For the first time in over two years, I was “unmasked”. The Barber National Institute Board has approved the revised Health and Safety Plan in which we adopted all CDC guidelines as to when one masks and when one does not. Erie is in low transmission, so staff and students need not mask. Everywhere you looked in the school, staff and students were smiling. I actually saw the faces for the first time of staff who were hired during COVID. There was a definite “buzz” in the air that continued all week.

Some key points in the Plan include:

  • Physical distancing of at least 3 feet as appropriate
  • Daily cleaning with no COVID suspected/confirmed cases
  • Follow CDC Quarantine and Isolation Procedures
  • Availability of testing in school for staff and students
  • Encourage students and staff to complete daily health check for symptoms related to COVID
  • Remote learning model provided during intermittent closures based on county, state, and federal mandates.
  • Continue to assist county and state Departments of Health with contact exposure tracing
  • PPE available as requested and needed
  • Students travel individually or with their class cohorts

The entire Health & Safety Plan can be found at

We plan to continue to implement changes during Extended School Year (ESY) with a goal of returning to past practices for the 2022-23 School Year unless high transmission occurs.

Stay Safe and Healthy!

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Survey Suggests Schools Experienced Both Challenges and Successes During Pandemic

I have been frequently asked what I thought was the impact of remote learning on our students. I have numerous thoughts but minimal data to support my views other than data from IEPs. So, I was very interested in the results of a naturally distributed survey to explore how classroom-based early childhood personnel delivered remote services to younger children with disabilities and their families during the early months of COVID-19.

Many of the findings were similar what we experienced:

  • Services switched to more indirect services, providing coaching and support to parents and families, as they have become the provider or teacher.
  • School goals shifted to home goals based on families’ priorities and interests in functional activities.
  • Social goals were difficult to achieve due to lack of peers unless there were siblings in the family.
  • The frequency of virtual services was determined based on duration of session. Often there was a reduction in service minutes. For example, we found that for the child who had a 30-minute session, it was not realistic to expect a 3 to 5-year-old to sit for that length of time in a teletherapy session.

We also found there were some very positive outcomes:

  • It was a great opportunity to partner with the family and show them strategies that we use in the classroom to help support their child.
  • Families were receptive to remote coaching and committed to working with their child at home.
  • Increased engagement with families during online IEP meetings. In fact, we are going to maintain online IEP meetings as an option for families.

Certainly, there were a mix of successes and challenges. However, what we learned over the past two years has made us better prepared to conduct remote sessions, should they be necessary, in the future.

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Happy Hearts Childcare Program: Foundations for a Bright Future

Looking for high-quality and flexible childcare is often stressful and very overwhelming for parents. 

Let me introduce The Happy Hearts Childcare Program at the Barber National Institute where preschool children LEARN, GROW, and THRIVE.

Happy Hearts days are fun filled with opportunities for active outdoor play and exploring activities designed to challenge all areas of their development. With the start of summer, the preschoolers in our Happy Hearts Childcare program have been busy enjoying all the opportunities available to them on our two playgrounds and our preschool outdoor classroom.

Although summer has just started, it is not too early to be thinking about the fall and preschool for your little one.

 Our Happy Hearts, a STAR 4 Child Care program:

  • Accepts children 3 through 5 years of age
  • Operates 7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. year -round
  • Schedule options include part-time, part-day or full- time schedule based on family need.  
  • Accepts Child Care Works subsidy, Erie’s Future Fund, and private pay
  • Provides free breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks
  • Offers children the opportunity to learn in hands-on, active, and creative ways
  • Equips children with the readiness and social skills needed for kindergarten success
  • Offers gym, library, art, and music classes led by certified teachers

Located close to downtown and the Bayfront expressway, Happy Hearts is an excellent resource for families in the Erie Community.  Barber National Institute employees and the public are welcome to consider the Happy Hearts program for their children.


“As an employee of the Barber National Institute, I knew that I wanted to utilize our on-site daycare for my son when we were ready to transition him to full-time care. I was excited that my son would be close to me if there was ever an emergency or if he just needed that reassurance that I was nearby. Happy Hearts had exceeded our expectations for a daycare. Not only did they prepare him to start Kindergarten, but also gave him the love and support to grow as a child. I watched my son blossom into a kind, smart, and independent child. They staff were always so insightful to what he would need and kept my husband and I informed. I would recommend Happy Hearts to any family that is looking for a safe and nurturing facility to place their child.”

“Happy Hearts is a secret gem of Erie.  As a proud mom of two Happy Heart’s graduates – I can honestly say that it was an excellent choice for our kids’ preschool program.  First of all it was so convenient, right off the Bayfront Expressway.  Secondly, the school celebrates every child.  Our kids loved coming to school every day. The faculty are top notch – caring, engaging, and always providing unique opportunities for our kids to explore the world around them.  Their teachers were always accessible for questions or concerns.  It was an over-the-top great experience for our kids and us, as parents! We hated to see the kids graduate!”

Happy Hearts is designed to make learning fun for your child. Contact us to explore the options right for your child. We have so much more to share!

Happy Hearts inquiries: Stephanie Robertson 814-878-4080

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We Open Our Arms and Hearts on World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations to honor refugees from around the globe and bring awareness of both the hardships faced by millions of displaced people as well as their extraordinary resilience. Each year on June 20, the world recognizes the unrest that forces refugees to leave their homes. Furthermore, World Refugee Day is about offering a helping hand to support our refugee neighbors as they resettle in a new country, work toward healing, and find a new way of life in a different culture.

Of those displaced, children are especially vulnerable to the devastation of war and brutality. Save the Children, a global nonprofit that today champions the rights of the world’s 2.3 billion children, reports that the number of children living in conflict and war zones is greater than at any time in the past 20 years.

The impact of being displaced on children weighs the heaviest on the hearts of people around the world. “Trauma destroys what the child was born to be,” said Angelina Jolie in a Time article. Jolie goes on to write, “Every day more than two children are killed, and four are injured, in the conflict in Ukraine. After over 100 days of war, almost two-thirds of Ukrainian children have been displaced.”

“The conflict in Ukraine has taken the number of displaced people worldwide past 100 million—higher than ever before recorded. More than one in every 100 people worldwide is displaced, as a refugee, asylum seeker, or within their own country—beyond the population of the U.K., or France, or Germany. Of these 100 million, perhaps 40 million are children forced from their homes and their communities. For them, the future looks bleak,” Jolie remarks.

A prolific humanitarian, Jolie has prompted leaders from around the world to rethink how we approach the prevention of widespread displacement resulting from persecution, conflict, violence, and other human rights violations.

The refugee crisis is a global concern, and cooperation from nations around the world is required to create real change through action. Unity and a strong commitment to ending humanitarian violations is the key to protecting and serving those impacted by displacement and resettlement.

The students of the Elizabeth Lee Black School, Barber National Institute held a penny drive this Spring for the children of Ukraine. $1,600 was raised! Our small part in helping the refugee crisis.

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Not-So-Lazy Days of Summer at BNI!

Some people think of the lazy days of summer, but at the Barber National Institute, we’re actually busier than ever! Over the years, we have initiated a number of programs to ensure that children have both educational and recreational opportunities throughout the summer. An adventure awaits for each child!

Happy Hearts Childcare

Working moms and dads don’t have the summer off to play with their children. Happy Hearts offers childcare early morning through late afternoon for ages 3-5. Outdoor classroom, arts and crafts, STEAM, and lots of fun activities ensure children have a great time!

Early Intervention

Ideally, many children with developmental delays benefit from year-round education. At BNI, we offer a summer component with short breaks so that the children do have a “summer vacation” but not the traditional 3 months of summer. The children continue to receive educational services specified on their Individual Education Plans (IEP) including speech therapy and physical therapy.

Extended School Year (ESY)

For children 5-21 with disabilities, a 5-week summer program is provided to assure that children do not lose the skills that they have acquired during the school year. Services on a child’s IEP are continued throughout ESY.


BNI offers four distinct camps:

  1. Learn to Ride Bike Camp is a 4-week program to help children develop skills to ride their bikes independently.  The program is open to children 6 years of age and above who have not been successful riding without training wheels.
  2. Camp Connections is a social skills development program for children and adolescents with a diagnosis of autism. The focus is on developing interpersonal skills, managing emotions, and making good decisions. It is housed in a new location this year, Mother Theresa Academy.
  3. Camp Shamrock focuses on development of recreational skills for children with disabilities.
  4. Expanding Social Opportunities (ESO) Camp is similar to Shamrock but is offered to young adults 18 and over with intellectual disabilities.

You can learn more about our camps at

Fun + Learning = The Best Educational Experiences.

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Celebrating Our 2022 Graduates

Yesterday was graduation.  Traditionally, we have a large graduation class and of course, an audience.  This year, we have 21 children graduating from our Early Child Care Programs and 12 from High School.

We decided to break into two groups and hold the event outdoors.  However, stormy Erie weather changed that plan. Our first ceremony was at 3 p.m. indoors at school. The evening ceremony remained outdoors.

Graduation is both happy and sad for us.  We are happy that our students are moving on, but we are sad to say goodbye to these children and families who we have come to know throughout the years and have had the good fortune to work with as part of our team. Many of our high school graduates began as preschool children, and they are leaving here today as adults. This is a major step in the journey of their lives, and their family’s lives. One that should be recognized for its significance. It’s an act not only of personal commitment, but also of pride. They and their families have worked hard to get to this day.

My challenge to each of our graduates is to continue to strive to achieve your full potential. The future is truly in your hands. You will always be a part of the Barber National Institute family. We are here for you as a resource, today, tomorrow and the years to come.

When Dr. Barber established the Barber National Institute 70 years ago, it was to ensure that all children and adults had every opportunity to go to school, get jobs, and become active participants in the community. Each of our graduates have met their goals through hard work, diligence, and dedication. We are proud of what our students have accomplished and are inspired by each of them.

Congratulations to the Classes of 2022!

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The 2021-22 School Year in Review

As the 2021-22 school year comes to a close, I began thinking…

When the year started, most children attended in person unless there were specific medical needs.  The students and staff remained in their “pods,” or classrooms, throughout the day. Furthermore, to limit interactions outside of the classroom, the therapists and ancillary teachers (art, physical education) went to the rooms, and breakfast and lunch were also delivered and served in the classroom.  Temperatures were taken upon entrance to school each day and children with any of the potential COVID-19 symptoms were isolated, sent home, and then if positive quarantined. They returned to school once symptoms dissipated.

So where are we now, on June 2, 2022? 

As winter turned to spring, we are still in our classroom “pods,” but students are going to gym, playground, and outdoor classrooms as the weather permits.

Temperatures are still taken upon arrival, and we continue to ask our families to keep their child home should they have any illness.

I am thrilled to report that more than 80% of our staff are vaccinated.  We have had a small number of COVID-19 cases among our students and staff. When we have experienced COVID, we have closed the classroom in accordance with CDC guidelines. We have not had to close our school. The extensive mitigation procedures and modifications worked, and our staff and students were able to stay safe.   

We anticipate that there will be numerous revisions in the health and safety requirements for schools for school year 2022-23 based on CDC guidelines. We plan to see our students fully engaged in school and therapies, and again be able to walk our halls.  I do miss the children’s laughter!

I am looking forward to the 2022-23 school year, and I know our parents and staff are, as well.

I appreciate the continued support of our staff, students, and our community as we met the challenges of COVID-19 and look forward to the future!  It was quite a year!

Our new health and safety plan will be submitted to the Barber National Institute Board in July and will be available on our school’s webpage at that point.

Congratulations, students and staff! We had an outstanding year!

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