Rainbow Fish & the Arts at ELBS

There is a buzz circulating in our school this week as we prepare for the 2019 performance of “The Rainbow Fish” at the Erie Playhouse on Thursday.  This is our second year for performing on the main stage at the Playhouse.  We have been working with them for a number of years but until last year our performances were on the stage in our gym. When it was suggested that we actually perform at the Playhouse, our students and staff were nervous. What would it be like being on a “real” stage and looking out at our audience?  But, the students were wonderful so it is back to the Playhouse this Thursday.rainbow-fish.png

The Arts have always played an integral role at the Barber National Institute and our school. In some schools the fine or performing arts fall by the wayside as the focus is on academic goals, data, and standards.  But, not at the ELBS. We believe and research has consistently demonstrated that involvement in the arts increases student achievement across all subject areas as well as social and adaptive skills. In addition, medical studies have found that participation in the creative arts reduces stress which in turn enhances the ability to learn.  Since many of our children struggle with anxiety, this is especially important.

So we are in the countdown to show time!  If you are free Thursday afternoon at 12:30, join us at the Erie Playhouse. I can promise you that it will be a memorable and inspiring hour.

A special thanks to Erie Arts and Culture for funding this project and to Trisha Yates, our drama coach Director and chief cheerleader! You are making dreams come true for our children!

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Mother’s Day, by Ryan Carey

I thought that I’d write my Mother’s Day blog by asking Ryan, “Tell me about your mom.” These are his responses. They are in the order that he spoke.

~ Maureen

She is nice to me.

She helps me out.

She takes me to golfing, to the movies, bowling, LECOM, Kahkwa, and out to eat.

She takes me out once a month for my special activities.

She helps me with money.

She helps me make my bed.

She lets me talk about heaven, flu shots, people.

She takes me to church.

She helps me vote.

She helps me be kind.

She is really pretty like some other girls.

She treats me with respect.

She makes my meals.

She teaches me how to follow God’s laws

She takes me to get the flu shot the day after the Beast at 9:00 AM at Wegmans.

She helps me be my best.

She loves me more than anyone in the world.

I am lucky to have you as my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day.

by Ryan Carey

mothers day

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Social Skills Building, Friendships and Summer Fun Combine for a Great Experience at Connections Camp: Guest Blog by Anne Marz

I asked one of BNI’s own staff, Anne Marz, who is the Director of Behavioral Health, to write a guest blog about Connections Camp that is held from the end of June through the beginning of August. It is an excellent program to help children develop age appropriate social skills through fun activities while making friends.


Socialization is not just a fun aspect of daily living, but an important characteristic of building relationships, communicating with others and achieving success. Social Skills are a feature of everything we do, but can be more challenging for children on the Autism Spectrum.

So it is not surprising that over 10 years ago, a group of parents came to me and said that their sons and daughters wanted to go to camp but had been unsuccessful at the local day camps. The question they posed was “What could the Barber National Institute offer them”? And so began Connections Camp!

connections camp 3

Connections Camp serves children and adolescents ages 5 through 18 with an Autism diagnosis. This year, it will be held at the Erie Day School on 1372 West 6th Street, Wednesday June 26th through Tuesday August 6th. The goal of Connections Camp is to help the campers develop age appropriate social skills. Classroom lessons are developed around weekly themes.  The campers then have the opportunity to practice these skills through fun, therapeutic activities, play and community outings. The themes include:

connections camp

All About You and Camp Safety

Communication/Conversation Skills



Thinking Feeling

Coping Skills/Anger Management

Embracing Differences

Connections Camp is free for Erie County residents. The hours of operation are 9:00 am – 3:00. Before and after camp care is offered from 8:00 am – 9:00 am and 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm.  Applications are available on the Barber National Institute website www.barberinstitute.org and camp staff are available to answer questions at 814-969-2588 or ConnectionsCamp@BarberInstitute.org

connections camp 2

I recall our very first year when one of the Moms, with tears in her eyes, came to me on the last day of camp and said that Connections Camp was the first time that her daughter had friends. Hearing that, I knew that we would continue offering Connections Camp every summer as long as there continued to be the need.

Connections Camp is quickly filling up quickly but a few openings still remain. If your child has Autism, and his/her behavior is appropriate for a summer camp environment with a 1-5 adult to child ratio, check out Connections Camp. Lots of progress through lots of fun starts here!

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Biking at BNI

We all know that maintaining a healthy life style is important for all ages, so why not take a bike ride to celebrate May as National Bike Month?


I firmly believe that bike riding benefits children with special needs, both as an enjoyable physical activity as well as a positive influence for their mental, emotional and social health.

For these reasons, the Barber National Institute offers three biking programs:

  • An adaptive biking program during the school day that allows children with physical disabilities to engage in a biking experience. With a fleet of over 50 adaptive bikes, each bike can be tailored to a student’s specific needs.
  • A “Learn to Ride” Bike Camp for children 5-15 years of age who have yet to master a two-wheel bike. Offered the past 5 years, nearly all of the children are able to “take off” and ride independently after the 4 week program. The program is free and open to the public and we still have a few openings, so contact us as soon as possible to register. For more information, visit: https://www.barberinstitute.org/programs-services/children/bike-camp
  • The BNI collaborates with My Variety so that eligible children can receive an adaptive bike that they can use at home. Over 50 of our students are now riding the peninsula with their families due to the generosity of My Variety. For more information on My Variety, visit: https://www.varietypittsburgh.org/

So Get Ready, Set, and Ride!

Happy May!

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How the College Admission Scandal Hurts People with Disabilities

All of us have been watching the unfolding story of the massive college admissions scandal and bribery in which dozens of parents and coaches are being charged.

While some of the students were given extra time on their college entrance exams due to learning disabilities, I was especially outraged upon learning that “…most of these kids don’t even have issues…”

students testing

These students were eligible for the extra time due to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which provide children with learning disabilities access to special education services, including testing accommodations. Testing accommodations are made in order to “level the playing field” and prevent children’s disabilities from interfering with their ability to demonstrate their actual skill level.  In no way is it intended to alter or lower the standards or expectations for a test. These testing accommodations are specified in the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or the 504 plan and agreed upon by parents, teachers, and school administrators.

Examples of testing accommodations would include:

  • allowing extended time
  • allowing frequent breaks
  • preferential seating
  • administration of the exam in a quiet room

Many, including myself, were shocked and dismayed to learn that parents would try to fabricate a disability in order to give their children an advantage during testing. Now many in the disability community worry that we could see some of the testing accommodations taken away from the students who really do need it.

I will certainly be keeping an eye on how these sequences of events unfold in the hopes that this important and essential right for students with disabilities is not lost.

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Women in the Workplace

I was honored to speak last week at IMPACT, the annual Manufacturer’s Association luncheon.  The focus was on “Women in the Workplace,” a very timely and relevant topic.

women in workplaceAs I started preparing my speech, I began thinking about my leadership philosophy and how it has evolved over the years as I faced new challenges and opportunities as an administrator and parent.

Some of those basic principles that I learned are:

  • To have a team full of passion, enthusiasm, inspiration, and motivation, you must demonstrate these same qualities; you can never underestimate the power of leading by example.
  • You can never express your appreciation or recognize achievement too much. When employees know that their work is valued, they will contribute their best efforts. Creating a supportive and nurturing working environment can be the key to unlocking an employee’s fullest potential.
  • A leader’s door should always be open to creativity and innovation.
  • Start the day with a positive mindset – your cup is always half FULL. Similarly, surround yourself with positive people as a part of your team.
  • Be mindful of the delicate balance between life at work and life outside of work, something I have noted changes regularly based on your personal and professional priorities.
  • Always be looking for new opportunities, both within your organization and with like-minded individuals and organizations. This may mean you will need to step outside of your comfort zone and take risks – it may even mean the risk of failure, but failure is also always an opportunity to learn.
  • In this fast-paced and ever-changing world, stay flexible and be willing to adapt to constant changes. Technology is a perfect example, as its influence is endlessly changing the ways in which we work.
  • Remember that laughter is a gift we give ourselves – the power of laughter heals, rejuvenates, resets our spirits, and brightens our outlook.


I am sure that you have many “golden nuggets” that you could share with me. Send them to me and we can keep this discussion moving forward! Happy Easter!

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Workers with autism are good for business

We celebrate National Autism Awareness Month in April by recognizing the growth of services helping children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities achieve their full potential. But it’s also important to acknowledge that an area we must continue to develop and expand on is employment.

In the late 1980s, when we first noticed an increasing number of children diagnosed with autism, the incidence was one in 1,000. Fast-forward to 2019, when one in 59 children is now diagnosed with autism.

That tidal wave of children diagnosed in the 1980s and 1990s have graduated from school and are now seeking employment. In Pennsylvania, we are fortunate that Gov. Tom Wolf established an “Employment First” policy for people with disabilities in 2016, and our state has invested in systems that increase opportunities for competitive, integrated community employment.

PAReports that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is at 4 percent, a two-decade low, are welcome news for job seekers, and have been very positive for people with disabilities as well.

Last year, the unemployment rate for people with autism and intellectual disabilities dropped to 8 percent, the lowest in a decade. However, as one peels the data further, some disconcerting facts surface. Workers with a disability were more likely to be employed part time, 31 percent vs. 17 percent, when compared to non-disabled peers.

Also, many more people with disabilities are working in the service industries, building grounds and maintenance that are typically seasonal jobs that tend to have lower wages. Surprisingly, a significant number of people with disabilities are self-employed, suggesting that if they cannot secure a job, they often create their own jobs in businesses such as bakeries or car washes.

In the face of these trends, what are we doing to foster employment? First, new programs help students with autism and intellectual disabilities explore employment during high school, and other services help adults build the skills needed to be successful on the job. These include “soft skills,” such as how to use public transportation to get to work, how to dress for the job and how to communicate with your supervisors, co-workers and customers.

Supported Employment helps adults locate and interview for jobs and provides coaches to teach adults the responsibilities of the new position. This service is free of charge for employers, who can be assured that adults they hire will be trained to do the job to their satisfaction.

We can all educate the business community about what people with autism and developmental disabilities are truly capable of. Employers are often unaware of the common strengths shared by many people with autism and developmental disabilities, including intense attention to detail, commitment to quality and consistency, creative and “out of the box” thinking, excelling on repetitive tasks, lower turnover rates, honesty and loyalty.

These are the qualities that one young man, Zack, has put to work at First Amendment Tees Co. in Erie, where he is using his graphic arts background and computer skills. Since his hiring two years ago, Zack has taken on an increasing amount of responsibility to help his employer.

disability_labor_3.jpgAs a community, we need to embrace the belief that people with autism and developmental disabilities bring added value to our jobs. They create diversity in the workplace, which increases workplace morale.

Many national companies, including Amazon, Apple and Home Depot, are recognizing the important role that people with disabilities can play in their workforce. Locally, the Bayfront Convention Center, Grimm Industries, LECOM Wellness & Fitness Center, Mercyhurst University cafeteria, Grapevine Laundry and Bello’s are a few of the businesses to step up and employ people with disabilities. These companies have seen a benefit to their customer market.

Savvy marketers and human resources personnel recognize that capitalizing on the return on investment of employing people with disabilities reflects the $3 trillion global market that is controlled by people with autism and developmental disabilities. In the United States alone, people with autism and developmental disabilities and their families, friends and associates represent a $220 billion market. Additionally, a large number of Americans say that they prefer to patronize businesses that hire people with autism and developmental disabilities.

People with autism and developmental disabilities are a hidden talent pool for business. Just last year, 40 adults with autism and developmental disabilities landed jobs with forward-thinking Erie employers. What would be a realistic goal for us this year? I will leave that up to you!



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