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 stephanierobertson@barberni.org

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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 www.barberinstitute.org.

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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Honoring Project SEARCH Graduates and Their Families

Since its beginning 26 years ago at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Project SEARCH has played a vital role in the lives of students with disabilities who want to advance their skills, become increasingly marketable to employers, and live as independently as possible while making valuable contributions within their own communities. Project SEARCH has grown into an international network of program sites and provides a unique blend of classroom instruction, hands-on training through worksite rotations, supportive job coaching, and individualized career exploration.

Students attend the program for a full school year at the host business where they will become familiar with the culture of the organization, their work group, and job responsibilities. They will build communication, problem-solving, technology, and teambuilding skills.  They also regularly interact with supervisors to arrange interviews and gain valuable feedback.

Project SEARCH emerged in Erie in response to an increased need for a transition-to-work program that focuses on helping young people with disabilities make successful transitions to productive adult life. I had the unique pleasure of speaking at the second annual Project SEARCH Graduation held on the Alleghany Health Network Saint Vincent Hospital campus.

A special thanks was extended to Project SEARCH sponsors, including Allegheny Health Network Saint Vincent Hospital, The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Erie County Department of Human Services, the Erie School District, and the Barber National Institute. Students’ families have played an important role in supporting them throughout their time in the program, and the success of Project SEARCH in Erie would not be what it is without the involvement of so many families. This year’s graduation ceremony featured five outstanding graduates, and ten more students are enrolled in the program for the fall.

When Dr. Barber established the Barber National Institute 70 years ago, it was to make sure that all children and adults had every opportunity to become an active participant in their community. The COVID pandemic has not stopped us from reaching the important goal of ensuring that students take part in the real-world work experiences that prepare them for success in competitive integrative employment.

Employers have also benefited from Project Search in that they are able to achieve a diverse and inclusive work culture where people of different backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas are given an opportunity to learn and grow within their chosen career paths, offer their viewpoints, and impact decisions made throughout the organization. We know that employers whose workforces reflect the diversity within their communities are resilient, innovative, and adaptable.   

I was so impressed by the young people who graduated from Project SEARCH this week who have shown such hard work, diligence, and dedication. As they move on to jobs at Allegheny Health Network Saint Vincent, and other employers, they should be proud of what they have accomplished and know that we are inspired and proud of them!

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Celebrating Better Hearing and Speech Month

In celebration of Better Hearing and Speech Month, I posed some questions to our therapists, and their answers were amazingly similar. I would like to share their thoughts.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

“Working as a team, along with my fellow SLPs, OTs, PTs, behavior team, teachers, and paraeducators. It is so beneficial to be able to have the support of others on the team all working together to accomplish the same goals for the students.”

“There are so many aspects of my job that I enjoy, so I will just list a few! I love working with such a diverse group of students with varying complex communication needs. I love that I continually learn alongside my students and that they push me to adapt and grow as a clinician to meet their communication needs. I really enjoy working together with an excellent group of therapists within my department but also across other disciplines. I am very fortunate to work toward common goals with so many skilled and knowledgeable occupational therapists, physical therapists, and behavior specialists.” 

“I enjoy working with the kids the most and using all different forms of communication to help the students communicate their wants/needs and participate in activities during the day. Also, our therapy team is very close and works as a team.”

“The thing I enjoy about my job the most is working with such a diverse group of students and seeing how they make progress from day to day. I enjoy working on a multidisciplinary team with the other therapists, classroom staff, and behavior staff and have learned so much from these other professionals. I also enjoy working with my students’ families to help them communicate at home. It is a great feeling when a caregiver tells you that their child communicated to them in a new way!”   

The theme of this year’s Better Hearing and Speech Month is “Connecting People”. How does your work as a speech therapist help you achieve the goal of connecting people?

“As a speech therapist, we help students find their voice and be able to effectively communicate with others. Whether that be communicating their wants or needs or communicating with their peers, it is important for each student to be able to communicate in their own way in order to connect with others and form bonds. It is amazing to be able to be a part of helping our students accomplish this.”

“This is another aspect of my job that I love. Our profession allows us the opportunity to connect with so many people daily. If there was one positive thing that came out of the pandemic, it was the fact that we had much more frequent interactions with our students’ families. We are all working on a common goal of helping our students succeed, so connecting with our students’ parents and caregivers is a key part of that success. Another way our profession helps us achieve the goal of connecting people is by working with undergraduate and graduate students just beginning their careers as SLPs. We have had the opportunity to connect with several students from various universities who have completed observation hours and/or internships at the Elizabeth Lee Black School. I believe part of my role as an SLP is to share my experience and knowledge with clinicians just entering the field, and I am so fortunate to have to opportunity to build these connections with future SLPs. Throughout my years at the Barber National Institute, I have had the pleasure of collaborating with colleagues from various companies, focusing primarily on the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Through these relationships, I have been fortunate to present at many conferences and have built many strong connections with so many amazing people.”

“Communicating basic wants and needs is one way we build connections. Another way is allowing the students to share and express their opinions through their voice verbally or non-verbally using AAC. With communication comes connections and as speech therapists we specialize in helping people communicate which results in connections built.”

“I think communicating, both verbally and non-verbally, is what connects people. As an SLP, it is a great feeling to provide my students with a way to express their thoughts and feelings so they can share these with others. When a student is introduced to a communication method that works for them, a whole world of opportunities opens up for them and they can begin to connect with those around them.”

What treatments or techniques have you found to be most effective in helping students reach their full potential?

“A strategy that I have found effective with our students is allowing them to lead and building language around their interactions and what they say. This is like using errorless learning, in a way that lets the student guide the session. It is also a fun way to get to know your students and see their personalities come out.”

” One of the many things I love about the field of speech-language pathology is that it is so diverse. However, because of that, it can be quite overwhelming and challenging to keep up with the ever-changing and treatments, techniques, and advancements in technology. Speech and language development is not black and white, which makes it nearly impossible to use one treatment or technique. I could have two students working on the exact goal, yet I address those goals using two completely different strategies. It is important to listen to our students, learn their interests, and be willing to adapt our therapy interventions to reach the students’ full potential. It is necessary to always be up to date on evidence-based treatments and techniques to help students make continual progress, no matter how great or small.”

“The introduction of a core vocabulary approach gives students a functional vocabulary to use across many situations and activities. They are the words we use most frequently on a daily basis. It helps the students move beyond just requesting items. Also, I have found modeling to be one of the most important techniques that a student’s communication partner can provide. Whether they are verbal or nonverbal using AAC, providing a model of how to communicate in different situations helps the students learn most effectively. Then give them the opportunity to try communicating in these situations that are modeled for them.”

“I have found that the strategy of “following the student’s lead” is really beneficial during therapy sessions. By doing this, I am showing the student that they have control over their environment through the things they do and say. It encourages students to express themselves and shows them that what they say matters!”

I would like to thank our remarkable speech therapists Abigail Hagen, Amy Moczulski, Carly Stewart, and Stephanie Jordan.

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Celebrating Nurse Appreciation Week

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. 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.

And so, as we celebrate Nurses Appreciation Week, I’d like to take a moment to recognize the Elizabeth Lee Black School nurses, Keri Moore, Helen Boyer, and Etta Loreti. I know that we are fortunate to have such dedicated, caring nurses in our school. Keri, Helen, and Etta can always be counted on to respond to student’s medical needs calmly, with expert nursing care and a smile.

I thought that I would ask them a few questions to gain insight into their work at the Barber National Institute and the Elizabeth Lee Black School.

Keri started with us in August 2021 and had worked for Saint Vincent Hospital prior to her joining us. She says, “We have the most amazing staff!  Everyone here at ELBS has a heart of gold.  Watching the teachers and staff interact with these students every day is truly inspiring!  From top to bottom, everyone who works here goes above and beyond to care for and educate our students.  Administration does a great job making sure their employees feel valued and appreciated.  We really have a great team and I’m so blessed to be a part of it.”

Helen joined the Barber National Institute in 2005 where she worked in the Adult Program until coming to the school in May 2021, Helen says, “I love working with my coworkers. They are all very caring and patient people. Because I am relatively new, I found I can count on everyone here for accurate information, to best care for each child. And of course there’s the Children, I love caring for them; they are good for my soul. I will be here till I retire.”

Etta has been with the Barber National Institute for 6 year and the Elizabeth Lee Black School for 9 months. Before coming the the Barber National Institute, she worked at Perseus House and Sarah Reed Children’s Center. Etta enjoys the friendly staff, cheerful school environment and working with the children. She also likes helping people and seeing them improve.

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

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National Teacher Appreciation Week

The first week of May is full of moments created to celebrate and appreciate many people in our lives – teachers, nurses, therapists, paraeducators, behavior specialists and many, many support personnel.

We agree with former First Lady Michelle Obama, who aptly stated: “At a time when more and more jobs require a good education, teacher’s week couldn’t be more important.” A good teacher can change a student’s life, creating worlds of opportunity, shaping the future and inspiring dreams. I think back to a teacher who influenced me and remember Sister Eulalia from Villa Maria grade school. Sister Eulalia was an English scholar, who instilled in us the knowledge and importance of good grammar. I spent hours diagramming prayers as a means of understanding subject/verb agreement, the error in dangling participles, and sentence fragments. When I entered Sister’s classroom, my knees were shaking and my hands were trembling, I was so nervous that I would make a mistake! However, I survived and today I credit my writing skills to Sister Eulalia.

Of course, I also look back to the teachers who had such a positive impact on Ryan’s learning. The first that comes to mind is Mrs. T, a retired first grade teacher who tutored Ryan from first grade to fifth grade. Mrs. T’s guiding philosophy was that if a student isn’t learning, then we must change how we teach him – a sentiment that echoes throughout the Elizabeth Lee Black School.  

And of course, I cannot forget my aunt, Dr. Gertrude Barber, our founder. She considered herself first and foremost a teacher. She was President of a multi-million-dollar agency, but her greatest happiness was found in being with her children, her students.

I encourage you to think back over your education. Who were the shining lights? Who inspired your dreams? It’s never too late to reach out to those people who made an impact on your life to tell them “Thank You!”

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The Annual Art Show: A Barber National Institute Tradition

The annual Art Show has been a Barber National Institute tradition since 2006. Initially, we wanted to have an event that would celebrate “April is Autism month”. As we discussed ideas, felt that it was important to recognize both children and adults with autism and other disabilities as well professional and amateur artists who support people with disabilities. And so began the first Art Show.

We were supported by the Erie Art Museum who loaned us their panels for the exhibit. There was an overwhelming response the first year. People wanted to participate, and the public responded with their interest in attending the show.

The show grew over the years until 2019 when we were forced by the pandemic to move to a virtual platform.  Yet the show continued to grow as persons across the country could participate since it was virtual.

This year, we have nearly 300 paintings, photography, and scriptures from youth, adult, adult amateur and adult professional artists.

Our chair for the past several years are Doctors Jay and Mona Kang.  Why are they involved?  Their interview along with their children tells the story….

The Art Show will be held online from Monday, April 25 through Friday, May 6. The Art Show is open to the public. Find more information at https://www.barberinstitute.org/events/art-show.

The Art Show is a great way to support the work of local artists, and it also serves to support the mission of the Barber National Institute. Purchases and donations alike help bring life-sustaining care to the populations we serve. Artists donate 20% of their proceeds to the Barber National Institute and some actually donate 100%.

Don’t delay or your favorite piece of art may be sold.

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