Easter Memories

I started thinking about Easter over the years…some wonderful memories! As you can see, Ryan did not like the Easter Bunny!

Happy Easter to Everyone!

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Week of the Young Child: A Chance to Step It Up

Established in 1971, The Week of the Young Child™ (WOYC), April 2-8 is a fun-filled week celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers, families, and communities. The 2022 theme is ‘step it up’. Why ‘step it up’? The Early Childhood years from birth to age eight lay the foundation for a child’s later success in their academic and social life. However, the pandemic took its toll on young children with the multiple and random closings of our schools and child care programs. Learning loss was inevitable, so we must all ‘step it up.’ The Barber National Institute has been committed to Early Childhood Education since our beginnings in 1952.

What do we have available in 2022?

Pre-K Counts program based in Erie and Corry is part of a statewide initiative to provide a high-quality full-time preschool experience free of charge for children of qualifying families. Pre-K Counts is designed to assist children who may be considered “at risk” because of the family’s economic, language, cultural or other circumstances which may prevent the child from developing the skills necessary to enter kindergarten ready to learn.

Happy Hearts Early Childhood Program, a fully inclusive preschool, provides a state-of-the-art educational experience where all preschool children have the opportunity to learn and grow. We began this program in the early 1980s, to allow neighborhood children and children of our staff to attend preschool. Today, we serve typical children as well as children with developmental delays. Happy Hearts is a four-out-of-four Keystone Stars Certified program and aligns with a progressive, innovative curriculum that encourages the development of creativity, self-direction, positive peer interactions and communication. Our history of providing individualized education allows us to guide each child toward his or her potential.

The Elizabeth Lee Black School, an Approved Private School, serves children with autism, intellectual and physical disabilities, and behavioral challenges who need intensive educational programming and therapies.

Our involvement with young children doesn’t end there. By partnering with organizations such as the PNC Grow Up Great program, we help to promote and encourage all children to reach their fullest potential, while sharing the resources to help make it possible.

Check out our Facebook page to see some of the WOYC fun activities beginning with our outdoor parade on Monday.

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Let’s Move from Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance

It’s hard to believe, but April has been recognized as Autism Awareness month since 2007.   I started writing about it in 2012.  That is the year that I began my blog…10 years ago!

As I look back over the years, I think about the enormous changes.

  • CDC recently released its latest prevalence rate estimates, one in 44 or 2.27% of 8-year-old American children have Autism Spectrum Disorder. This is a 23% increase from two years ago when the figure was 1:54.
  • Because so much publicity has been directed to the signs of autism, parents are often the first to recognize the possible characteristics of autism and consult their physician.  This is a very important outcome, as early diagnosis is critical.
  • Educational opportunities increased tenfold as colleges and universities began offering special education certification in the field of autism. More qualified teachers allowed schools to expand programs for children with autism.  
  • We also began to understand fully that autism is a spectrum disorder and that we have children who are on all levels: mild, moderate, and severe.  For each, a different level of educational programming is mandated for their free appropriate education. COVID brought many challenges for our students…and we are still working through them.
  • We have made significant progress in improving access to opportunity for persons with autism. However, we know that there are still significant gaps in employment and income.

 At the Barber National Institute, we strive to be part of the fabric of our society and have found Erie to be a welcoming community.  That has been because of Acceptance.  We have made great strides, but more can be done…. through Acceptance.

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Continuing the Legacy of Making Dreams Come True

Each year, the Religious Studies Department at Mercyhurst University awards an individual or organization the Archbishop Oscar Romero Award for “living the call of faith and justice in an extraordinary manner.”

This year marks the 30th year for the award named in honor of now Saint Oscar Romero, a staunch advocate for the poor and oppressed in El Salvador. Saint Oscar Romero gave his life fighting for the dignity and human rights of those who were excluded from society and marginalized for centuries.

Barber National Institute was nominated this year for the Archbishop Oscar Romero Award, and I was honored to accept this award on behalf of the organization Dr. Gertrude Barber founded 70 years ago. On the evening of March 24, I gave a speech on the campus of Mercyhurst University titled “Continuing the Legacy of Making Dreams Come True.”

Like Saint Oscar Romero, Dr. Gertrude Barber was called to help those who had been excluded from society and given little opportunity to grow and thrive as valued members in their own communities.

Dr. Gertrude Barber entered the Erie School District as a young teacher in the 1930s. Her first assignment was working with children with mild disabilities at Wayne School. While these children were deemed to be educable by the school system, there were many students with disabilities who were denied access to a quality education. Their only option was to either be sent to an institution or kept at home indefinitely.

With limited funding and legal restrictions in offering early intervention programs to aid children with disabilities, Dr. Barber organized the first parent group in 1950. If the city and state would not provide for these children, then the parents must start a school of their own.

The first class for children with disabilities was held at the YWCA in April of 1952. As the Y become too small for Dr. Gertrude’s programs, a permanent home was found in 1958 at the Lakeview Hospital at 136 East Avenue.

Institutional reforms began in the 1960s, and Dr. Gertrude played a major role in providing her expertise on the challenges that face people with disabilities and their families. By the early 1970s, there was a push to move people with disabilities out of institutions and back to their home communities. Today, the Barber National Institute operates 95 group homes throughout Erie, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, where adults with disabilities are supported as they live, work, and worship in their own communities and neighborhoods.

In 2000, Dr. Barber passed away, but her work continues. Today the organization she founded serves 6,300 children, adults, and families across Pennsylvania.       

Throughout our history, we have been committed to the concept of social justice in the equitable treatment of people with disabilities. Our progress toward this ideal was slow initially and was not without its unique challenges, but today the Barber National Institute serves as a beacon for those who are committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

If you would like a copy of the PowerPoint presentation from the Archbishop Oscar Romero Award reception, please email Grace Martin at GraceMartin@barberni.org or call 814-878-5903.

Dr. Maureen Barber-Carey, center, accepts the Archbishop Oscar Romero Award presented by Mercyhurst University.  Joining her at left is Dr. Verna Marina Ehret, Professor and Chair, the Department of Religious Studies; and Dr. Kathleen A. Getz, right, president of Mercyhurst University
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We Welcome A New Cohort of Students Teachers

It has been over 700 days since we closed in March of 2020. We have had a variety of schedules during this time, including on site, hybrid, remote/virtual, and every possible combination.

It has been a difficult time for students, families, and staff.  We have offered in-person education since September 2021 with various times that a classroom needed to go remote based on COVID or COVID exposures.  We have kept our classroom cohorts intact but have gradually moved to having students go to the gym, fitness room, or pool with their cohort.  We continue to mask as we know that so many of our students are medically compromised.   It is truly wonderful to see that Erie County is at a low level of transmission!

We have provided the opportunity for student teachers to return to two of our classrooms and plan on opening on a larger basis as we move ahead.  We can’t wait to open for our loyal volunteers!

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Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you look in any of our classrooms, you will see every shade of green that you can imagine. Pre COVID, we had a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but that is on hold until next year. Instead, each classroom will have their own celebration. Yes, it is a fun day for both students and staff! However, it’s a day rooted in a tradition that is the basis for our mission. Why is that? Well, it all started with the shamrock…

We all know that the shamrock is the familiar emblem of Irish culture. Often, I have been asked, “Do you have a shamrock for your emblem because the Barber Family is Irish?” While we do come from an Irish heritage, the shamrock truly has a meaning that extends beyond just our lineage. I recall sitting with Dr. Barber as she explained her concept of the shamrock to artist Frank Fecko. Each of the three leaves has significance: Faith, inspired Hope, and enduring Love. And the stem? It is the community of supporters, our children and adults, families, staff, and friends. Now, you will see the 70 as part of our stem as we celebrate our 70th year.

Today, the shamrock endures as our promise to future generations that the Barber National Institute will continue our commitment to serving children and adults with disabilities and their families. It’s comforting to think that we will continue to see this “lucky” green symbol for decades to come! As Dr. Gertrude Barber stated: “All things are possible if you set a goal, persevere, and put wings on our dreams.”

Ryan’s first St. Patrick’s Day!

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Advancing Opportunities for People with Disabilities: A Reflection

March is National Disability Awareness Month. 

I think sometimes that we have so many “Awareness” months that they become trite and inconsequential.  Certainly, we are all aware of disabilities. But it was not so long ago that persons with disabilities were not thought to be able or worthy to receive an education.  Their only option was spending their life at home or being sent away to an institution to be forgotten.  That was the case in the early 50’s, just 70 years ago.  

Institutional reforms began in the 1960’s, and we in Erie were fortunate to have Gertrude Barber as a member of the Presidential Committee that brought to the forefront the needs of persons with developmental disabilities.  

Legislation was enacted in the 70’s to ensure the education and rehabilitation of children and adults with disabilities.  In 1987 President Reagan proclaimed March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. This proclamation, which was built upon the institutionalization movement of the 70’s and 80’s, inspired further social change by asking Americans to provide the “encouragement and opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to reach their potential.”

Fortunately, advocates continued to push for change by encouraging Congress to recognize that persons with disabilities deserve more. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 made discrimination against people with disabilities sanctionable. Soon after the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1994 passed, which guaranteed early intervention and special education.

So today in March 2022, the goal of the Barber National Institute continues: to enable children and adults with disabilities to fully participate in all aspects of the community whether it is education employment, housing, or recreation.   We are committed to working with families to secure necessary resources to achieve the dreams for their child or adults. 

We look forward to your continued support to enable us “to make dreams come true for our families” and to keep disability services at the forefront of our legislators and community.

People with disabilities are a diverse group with hopes, dreams, and beliefs above and beyond their disability.
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Oh The Places You’ll Go! Traveling Afar through Reading

Join us in celebrating this week, Read Across America!  Established in 1997 by the National Education Association, it is recognized on March 2, which is also the birthday of Dr. Seuss.  Dr. Seuss published his first book in 1937 and throughout his life wrote 47 children’s books noted for their playful rhymes and unusual characters. Theodore Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was born March 2, 1904, and he passed away September 24, 1991.  

He was not a doctor, but he used the term to appease his Father who expected him to study medicine.  He has become somewhat controversial in the last few years by those that suggest that his work is not inclusive and does not reflect our diverse communities. The students at the Elizabeth Lee School, along with thousands of children across the country, will celebrate this day with numerous festivities. 

On a personal note, Ryan and I have celebrated this week in several ways.  He loves his Green Eggs and Ham, so that will definitely be on our breakfast menu.  He is also reading to the children in Happy Hearts Green Eggs and Ham.

Starting Monday, we have Red Shirt Day followed by Crazy Hat Day, Goofy Hair Day, Mix/Match Day and finally Crazy Sock Day on Friday.  Pre COVID, we had 50 + friends, supporters, and community leaders join us to read to the students.   We will continue to do this but conduct our reading virtually.  Hopefully, this will be our last year to do so before we can get back to in-person reading.

I am reading to the students as well.  I have carried on Dr. Barber’s tradition of wearing a Dr. Seuss hat for this.   She thoroughly enjoyed this event…and I do as well. My favorite past time is reading…did you guess!

I will close with the quote which is one of my favorites: “Kids, you will move mountains!  Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting!”

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ELBS went virtual to celebrate Digital Learning Day!

It may be difficult to believe, but Digital Learning Day (DLD) is today, February 22th! It seems like yesterday that we were in the gym welcoming our exhibitors, staff, and friends from the community to this event. And then came COVID-19! We are continuing restrictions on visitors this year.

This year at the Elizabeth Lee Black School, we are using DLD as a way to celebrate the success of our educators, therapists and paraprofessionals who created and implemented research-based instructional practices that use technology both an in-school and virtual learning environment.

I think back to when we purchased our first Apple 11E…could that have been over 30 years ago?  Fortunately we had a handful of staff, led by Chris Curcio, who wanted to learn everything and anything about Apple.  Who would have guessed that today we would not only have mastered computers, but be using iPads, smartboards, TAPits, Smart TVs, Apple TVs, and webcams, just to name a few!

We have come so far in the past three years! And I am pleased to say that we have been very successful. We’ve developed a brief presentation to highlight some of our accomplishments that you can view here: https://prezi.com/view/CPC2KTJCkgbxphsHjjFn/


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Changes to Developmental Milestones: What This Means for Children and Their Families

Are you familiar with “developmental milestones”? They are the skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, or waving bye-bye. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, move (i.e., from crawling to walking).

I was very interested to read that the developmental milestones are being updated, which is the first time since 2004.  These revisions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with the Academy of Pediatrics, were developed by a group of 13 developmental experts and pediatricians.  The revisions raised the percentage of children who typically meet certain milestones from 50 to 75%.  Also, the CDC added milestones for 15 months and 30 months and defined social and emotional markers such as when a child hugs a doll or another toy.   

Certainly, there have been societal changes as to when children are expected to complete various activities, such as tying their shoes and picking up cereal.  These changes are designed to give parents, doctors, and therapists clearer benchmarks as to when children typically do things. 

I believe many parents use these developmental guidelines as a marker for how their child is progressing or not.  I know that I kept a copy of them at my bedside and would periodically see how Ryan was doing.  When I saw that his expressive language skills were not on par, I referred him for a speech and language group.  He was 14 months. 

Certainly, as a person in the field, I was very conscious of the milestones, perhaps more so than many parents. 

Why are they important?

These new guidelines will support parents and physicians in considering referrals for evaluation. The earlier diagnosis will result in earlier intervention services, which is a WIN/WIN for all.

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