Yesterday, we received some great news! The Elizabeth Lee Black School at the Barber National Institute has received the “Award for Leadership and Innovation in Special Education” from the National Association of Private Schools (NAPSEC). NAPSEC, headquartered in Washington, DC, is the largest national organization representing private special education programs.
This prestigious award recognizes the school’s consistent efforts to ensure that children with disabilities receive the many benefits that digital technology offers for state-of-the-art education. In particular, the school is being recognized for an artist-in-residence project that brings a professional artist together with students and faculty to create multimedia publications such as digital books, movies and animations that reinforce or expand upon concepts taught in the classroom. Many of the students create “social stories” that help them achieve their individual communications or behavior goals.
This recognition made me look back in time to when Dr. Barber established our initial program at the YWCA in 1952. Dr. Barber was a school psychologist for the Erie School District, and was responsible for telling parents of children with special needs that they were not eligible to attend school because of their disability. She and the parents wanted more for these children, and so began the first classroom.
In 1963, the Barber Center was designated as one of the first Approved Private Schools in Pennsylvania by the Department of Education. Approved Private Schools were established to serve children with special needs who cannot receive an appropriate education in their local school district. Over the years, the school has expanded and developed an expertise working with children with autism, intellectual disabilities, multiple disabilities, and mental health challenges.
Our first venture with technology was with the Apple IIe, in 1983. Who would have believed that in a short 30 years, we would go from one machine in the school to computers and iPads in every classroom? Today’s software programs and applications focus on addressing students’ social-emotional learning, as well as adding new dimensions to communication skills and real-world exploration.
I believe that digital technology continues to change society, self-expression and education, but too often children with disabilities are left behind. At ELBS, we are intent on bridging the digital divide for our students and using technology to broaden their opportunities for learning. Without question, there is great potential, but we need to be thoughtful and intentional in our use of technology.
Who knows what another 30 years will bring us?