Introducing the Student of the Week!

In my previous blog, The Power of Kind Words, I wrote about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and how the Elizabeth Lee Black School teachers design lessons based on the core principles of PBIS. These principles emphasize the importance of being kind, safe, and independent. Each week, we focus on a specific skill.

Since PBIS began in 2017, the PBIS Core Team has offered innovative and exciting ways to promote a positive culture within our school. During this week’s inservice, they introduced a new initiative: The Student of the Week!

Each classroom will nominate a student who displays skills from the Student Matrix. Four students will be chosen, one for each grade level: Preschool, Elementary, Middle, and High School.

Beginning this Friday, the nominated students will be entered into a raffle. Each classroom can watch, as the winners will be announced virtually. The winners will have a Student of the Week sign posted on their classroom door and their names will be displayed at our main entrances. The students will also receive a certificate to take home.

I am looking forward to our first drawing. This is a wonderful way to reinforce the positive supports and culture that is needed for all students to achieve social, emotional and academic success!

Congratulations to the PBIS Team!

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How Autism Awareness has Improved Over Time

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…9 years ago!

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

  • Thousands more children have been diagnosed as the prevalence is now 1:54.   Very different from the 1:10,000 in the 1980’s.
  • 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 many institutions of higher learning 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.
  • The expansion of awareness leading to greater identification of children with autism in the 1990’s resulted in a tsunami of children graduating from high school circa 2015-2018 and in need of further vocational/employment /educational services. Colleges began programs for young adults with autism.  Employers became aware of the many talents that persons with autism have to offer. Supported Employment programs and OVR provided job coaches to assist adults in securing and maintaining jobs.
  • Last, but not least, additional funding became available on the state and federal level to support children and adults with autism.  Certainly, never enough to meet the needs of the autism community, but it was a beginning.

How can you assist during April?  Spread the word about Acceptance of children and adults with autism in the schools, jobs, and in society as a whole.   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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Rock your socks for World Down Syndrome Day!

Sunday was World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), a day to promote awareness, understanding, and support for persons with Down syndrome.  Did you know that even the date itself, 3/21, has meaning? It was selected because of the triplication of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.

First observed in 2006, WDSD wasn’t officially celebrated until 2012. It was thanks to an extensive campaign launched by Down Syndrome International and Brazil that the date became part of the United Nations calendar. On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared March 21 as WDSD.

Yesterday, the staff and students of the Elizabeth Lee Black School showed their support for WDSD.  Everyone was wearing bright, colorful, or mismatched socks.  The socks are worn to attract attention as a conversation starter so that people ask questions. The wackier the socks, the better! This is all part of #LotsOfSocks, a campaign held because chromosomes are shaped “like socks.”

To learn more about Down syndrome, there are many great videos available at the Canadian Down Syndrome Society website –

I’d encourage you to take a few moments…they are inspiring!

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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. Wendy Sadlier, our head “chef,” is offering Reuben sandwiches in the cafeteria and Irish music is playing in many classrooms. 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. With this in mind, Frank designed our shamrock, an emblem we have used every day since!

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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2020: Looking back at how the Elizabeth Lee Black School moved forward through a pandemic

Can you believe it?  It was just about one year ago that the Governor closed all schools in Pennsylvania.  It was supposed to be for two weeks.  Little did we know then that it would last to September! Yes, COVID turned education upside down! So, I thought that I would “look back” and share with you what I have seen as the positive outcomes and challenges that we have experienced.

Our students:

As educators, we know that we must integrate social/emotional/cognitive learning, but the question was, how do we do this in a virtual learning environment?  This issue certainly was heightened for students with disabilities.

We knew that we needed to focus on the individual student’s strengths and challenges through virtual and innovative learning.

Our families:

What did this mean for our families?  Suddenly, they were now responsible for their child’s education. How would our families be able to support their children should behavioral challenges occur?

We acknowledged that we needed to support our families in every way possible. We wanted to engage our families in the learning process.  Staff needed to reach out regularly to our students and families, share information, identify resources to ensure that the students’ and families’ needs were met. A holistic approach was needed that would support scaffolded learning.


Not a replacement for human interaction, but a tool to help students and staff communicate, monitor progress, and present information in different ways.

Fortunately, for our students who lacked technology, their home school districts were able to provide them with chrome books, iPads, etc. However, our staff needed to learn how to utilize technology for virtual learning.  During the first months, we provided enrichment activities for our students which was offered in an asynchronous learning environment. This meant that the students used the enrichment materials at any time and without a video component.  But when we returned virtually in the summer, we knew we had to offer synchronous learning as well. The platforms, Box and Go To Meeting, became the vehicles for us to do this.  Then Microsoft TEAMS became available in the Fall…another learning curve!

Physical plant:

We required so much to be able to implement mitigation procedures, but we also knew that this was critical for us to keep our students and staff safe. We developed a Health and Safety Plan and identified  tasks that were essential to complete: upgrading ventilation in all areas, establishing outdoor classrooms, purchasing plexiglass dividers, UV sanitizers for iPads, sanitizing spray, securing PPE, including gloves, masks and gowns…. The lists became quite extensive!

So, 365 days later, I can state that on a positive note, most of our students have not demonstrated the loss of skills that one might have expected. Our families and staff have worked diligently so that has not occurred, and many have been thoroughly engaged in their child’s education.  We have learned so much about technology and how best to engage our students in virtual learning.  I am pleased that many of our students are now back to school full time and hope that these numbers will continue to increase.  We look forward to School Year 21-22 with our students fully engaged in their classrooms. It portends to be an exciting year!

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Read Across America Week and Why Reading Matters

Which American writer has had the greatest impact on children’s literature?  His birthday, March 2nd, is the date that is annually designated as Read Across America day.  Yes, you’re right – it is Dr. Seuss!

As we began planning Dr. Seuss week at the BNI, I realized how little I knew about Dr. Seuss and decided it was time to learn more.  Theodore Geisel was born March 2nd in Springfield, MA and grew up in a prosperous extended family.  It was during college that he discovered his love of designing books with pictures and words.  He added the title Dr. before Seuss (his mother’s maiden name) to lend credibility to his writing and characters and in reaction to his father’s wish that his son would get a doctorate.  He wrote two to three books a year almost without pause between 1957 and 1976.  He wrote a book on a dare when his publisher bet him that he couldn’t complete a story using only 50 different words … and he did, Green Eggs and Ham.   His final book, What Pet Should I Get, was published in 2015.

Why has Dr. Seuss endured?  Young children enjoy his imaginative characters, vivid illustrations and catchy rhymes.  They can read Dr. Seuss books many times without tiring of the rhythms, plots or art.  For older children, the moral lessons in Dr. Seuss stories contribute to the learning experiences. 

There has been a buzz in the school this week as we celebrate Dr. Seuss and Read Across America.  Yes, it is different this year as all of our readers are virtual. But, the importance of reading whether it is in-person or virtual cannot be underestimated. We know that by the age of 3, children born into low-income families heard roughly 30 million fewer words than their affluent peers.  Only 53% of children, ages 3 – 5, are read to daily by a family member.  Yet, children who are read to frequently are also more likely to count to 20 or higher, write their own name and read or pretend to read.  Unfortunately, the pandemic has resulted in parents reading significantly less to their preschool children.

As I look back, Ryan started reading words when he was 3 years old and quickly moved on to the short “Bob” books. As he continued in elementary school, I realized that although he was very fluent, his comprehension skills were weak. This was a struggle throughout his educational career. He never developed my “love of reading,” but I am still not giving up!

As Dr. Seuss said, “The more you read, the more things you will know, the more you learn, the more places you will go.” I concur!

PS: Ryan and I are celebrating Dr. Seuss with green eggs and ham on Wednesday. Why not do something fun like us?

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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 25th! It seems like yesterday that we were in the gym welcoming our exhibitors, staff, and friends from the community for last year’s event. And then came COVID-19!

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 used technology and technology tools in a 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, and webcams, just to name a few!

When faced with the pandemic and the closing of our school, we fortunately had the hardware, but needed to consider how to utilize this in the virtual learning environment. Could we offer synchronous leaning and asynchronous learning? What training would our staff need? What platforms should we consider – GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom? These are some of the questions and challenges we faced and overcame going into the 20-21 school year.

We have come so far! And I am pleased to say that we have been very successful. We’ve developed a brief video to highlight some of our accomplishments that you can view here:


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Teaching Kindness

Ryan and I have been looking forward to today, Random Act of Kindness Day, and have been talking about how we should participate. We decided that every day, each of us will do a special act of kindness and, at the end of the day, share with each other what we did. In fact, this morning, Ryan did an act of kindness for me. Usually, I ask him to complete his morning jobs before he goes to work….making his bed, setting the table and sweeping. Today, he spontaneously did everything! Moments like that are so touching and gratifying!

As I thought about the topic of kindness, I began to consider how kindness is taught. The rampant problem of bullying in our schools underlies a deeper issue – are we teaching our children to be kind?

It’s never too early for children to hear from parents that kindness and caring for others is a top priority. I think that Ryan and I were talking about this when he was three years old.

Learning to be caring is like learning anything else. It takes practice. Lots of it. This begins with us, the parents, as we are our child’s first teacher.  We play an important role as a mentor and role model.  Even when we are not aware, our child is observing us and seeing how we handle difficult situations. The way we respond is the way they will respond.

It’s easy to foster a caring attitude toward family and friends, but it can be more challenging to teach a child how to extend that to an unfamiliar person. I have always encouraged Ryan to learn more about and be open to different cultures and communities other than his own, but also to ask, “What can I do to help people in need?”

Talking about kindness is only part of the equation; kindness is best learned by feeling it and then reciprocating…being kind to others.

This week is a wonderful reminder to all of us to be kinder to the people and the world around us. Our world can certainly use some extra kindness!

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Fun, At Home Valentine’s Day Activities

Now that we are in February, I am sure that many of us are looking forward to Valentine’s Day and thinking about what fun activities we can do with our children.

So, I asked our teachers if they had some “tried and true” activities and I also did a bit of research.  I have assembled these projects in a slideshow.  I hope that you and your children enjoy them.

Perhaps you have a few activities of your own to share with our readers? If so, please add them in the comments below.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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The Power of Kind Words

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on all of our lives. Many children and adults are experiencing stress, anxiety, sadness and loneliness. In fact, 86% of doctors around the world believe that mental health issues and depression will be the biggest non-COVID-19 problem after the pandemic.  Since February is International Boost Self-Esteem Month, now more than ever is a great time to focus on building resilience and confidence in 2021.

As patterns of self-esteem begin to form early in life, it is vital to promote healthy self-esteem in children. Each of us, as parents, can be a positive role model so that our children can mirror our behavior. But, how can we foster self-esteem in our schools?

It all starts with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Elizabeth Lee Black School teachers have designed lessons based on the core principles of PBIS, which emphasize the importance of being kind, safe, and independent. Each week, students focus on a specific skill.

PBIS Student Matrix

Teachers of our preschool students have a number of fun activities that promote self-esteem. The book, Have you Filled Your Bucket Today by Carol McCloud, is used in lessons as an analogy on how kind words  fill your “bucket” and makes you feel good and happy, while negative words take away from your “bucket” and makes you feel sad.

Another activity involves the students filling a container with cotton balls when they say or do something kind, achieve a goal, and listen well. As the container gets full, students receive a reinforcer.

Even the cotton balls themselves are part of the lesson as each child is given the opportunity to feel a cotton ball and a piece of sandpaper. The class then discusses how cotton balls are soft, like nice words, and that sandpaper is rough, like unkind words.

These are two sample lessons that can increase peer and individual self-esteem by learning how kind words make us feel good about ourselves, encourage us and give us strength.

One can never overlook the power of kind words!

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