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March 2014 Archives

Reviewed By Merri Rosenberg

As if parents of special needs children didn't have enough to keep them up at nights, concerns about their children's futures loom especially large. The issues these families struggle with while the children are in school -negotiating the complex dance with school systems about appropriate placements, assuaging social slights from peers, or simply figuring out what success and progress mean for their children--fade into the background when these young adults leave school to attempt independent living.

In this poignant, brave, touching and incredibly practical book, Diana Bilezikian, a graduate of Scarsdale High School and Chapel Haven, a New Haven, CT., program for independent living for young adults on the autism spectrum as well as those with developmental and social disabilities, offers an insider's guide to handling the challenges of daily life for those who see the world in a distinctive way.

It's an impressive accomplishment, and an invaluable resource. Bilezikian serves as a translator for those who may not understand the often illogical and confusing ways of the world. Recognizing that many of those on the autism spectrum are quite literal, Bilezikian identifies many English idioms that simply make no sense to the population she targets--phrases like "catch a bus" or "down to the wire"--and explains what they mean.

Tasks that most 18-year-olds manage to figure out when they graduate from high school, like opening bank accounts, cleaning their own places, and understanding how to behave in a work environment are often baffling and bewildering to young adults with developmental and social disabilities.

In this accessible how-to book, Bilezekian uses a letter/advice column format to discuss topics and provide answers to such concerns as managing money, avoiding impulse shopping, figuring out public transportation, avoiding internet scams, checking mail daily and paying bills regularly, performing job tasks, and even understanding the importance of personal hygiene and good grooming. She recognizes that many young adults with social disabilities need assistance with concepts like respecting someone else's personal space, asking appropriate, rather than inappropriate questions, when meeting someone new, or even knowing how to give and receive compliments. Bilezikian tackles table manners and roommate situations, too.

Nor does she avoid the sensitive topic of intimate relationships with boyfriends and girlfriends, confronting questions about when to engage in sexual relationships and why using a condom for protection against sexually transmitted diseases matter.

Bilezikian has performed an important service for her community; this volume belongs in the hands of every family with special needs children, and every young adult with special needs who's bravely venturing into the world.#

Published by AAPC Publishing: Shawnee Mission, Kansas. 2014: 207 pp.

Please Be Normal, a film gathering much press attention, is an official selection at the Monadnock International Film Festival in Keene, New Hampshire. 

The festival runs from April 10-12, 2014 and our film will be shown at the Colonial Theatre (95 Main Street) on Saturday, April 12 at 2pm. The screening will be followed by a brief Q&A. You can find more information about the festival at  http://www.moniff.org/film/please-be-normal

Director Haik Kocharian will also participate on a panel, "A Conversation on Music and Film", taking place Friday, April 11th, at 10am. Please also see under www.moniff.org/moniff-film-festival-panels.

In recent months there's been a lot of news about public, private and philanthropic commitments to getting our public schools access to broadband Internet. In February, coming off a State of the Union address by President Obama that highlighted the issue, the FCC announced that it would move money around to double the sum available for so-called E-Rate broadband grants, from $1 to $2 billion. According to the advocacy group Education Superhighway, an astonishing 72% of K-12 schools nationwide lack sufficient speeds for the kinds of applications that you and I probably take for granted in our homes.

How can this be? The problems with school Internet access are basic and often come in the last mile, or even the last few inches. I recently spoke to Matt Tullman of digedu, a small Chicago-based startup, who offered me a closeup view of the problems.

Digedu actually started as a learning software company, offering lesson creation tools. They expanded into providing hardware, helping a school choose the right device and offering the service maintenance and training. It became clear that many schools didn't have the bandwidth to use the products they were offering.

So they created a classroom "bandwidth augmentation" solution called Classroom Cloud. It's a box that sits on a desk, makes local backups of content, and augments bandwidth, enabling 60 or 70 students to stream video simultaneously.

I asked how much his solution can improve performance for his client schools. "It's not so much a difference in performance as operable vs. not," he says. "Most schools share amongst the entire school what a household would have."

Think about that: a connection that's supposed to be used by 4 or 5 people, instead being shared by possibly hundreds of students.

Upgrading access, he says, is a heavy infrastructure undertaking, often bound up with other costs.

"In the Southside of Chicago, where our schools are located, it's copper wires.  They have no other choice. It's not about paying for a bigger plan. I sat down with a principal who told me, even if you use E-rate it's still $200,000 to lay a pipe of fiber optics. That's prohibitive, especially when access is not the end in itself-the outcome is technology." In other words, laying the pipe is a necessary, not a sufficient condition to having a 21st century school.

Figuring out what exactly is slowing down a school's connection takes some detective work-Tullman says he's often "sweating in his suit" at un-air conditioned Chicago schools. 

"There are so many points at which bandwidth can be throttled at most schools," Tullman says. "The access point could be outside these buildings with four-foot concrete walls. It could be several years old. The wiring could be old. You have to have a holistic view of what's going on." 

 The E-Rate program has been criticized for mismanagement of resources. A very large proportion, about five billion dollars' worth, of E-Rate funds has gone unused, piling up year after year. Outdated procurement processes also stand in the way of school districts using these funds effectively. According to Education Superhighway, average schools are paying around $25 per mbps (megabit per second), while some districts have been able to negotiate prices as low as $2 per mbps. (According to the FCC, minimum bandwidth for one user to download email or browse static web pages is about 0.5 mbps.  "Advanced" service is classified as more than 15 mbps, which is needed to have more than three users or devices using applications such as streaming video.) 

Education Superhighway recommends school districts banding together into regional consortia to increase their bargaining power. Maybe the structure of the federal grant program needs to change to enable the kind of last-few-inches construction and network management that actually needs to be done to get schools wired.

Reprinted with Permission of the Hechinger Report.

Quotes from Education Leaders


Stevenson School, NYC: Headmaster Doug Herron in response to the question: What is the message you want to give to your students as they move on?

I think the core of the message is that they can do it and they have proven here that they can do it. The road will not be easy, there will be challenges ahead but if we've succeeded to the best degree, we have been able to give them a new life.

--Douglas Herron, Head of School
Stevenson School, NYC



Weill Cornell Medical College, NYC: Dean Laurie Glimcher:

"Jennifer [Raab] is spectacular and I have the greatest respect for her. I am so delighted that Hunter College is going to be our collaborator in the Belfer Research Building."

We are living in "a rapidly changing healthcare environment," "a transformative time for clinical care applying the discoveries made at the bench into new therapies for patients."

By Dr. Eduardo Marti

I could have been an undocumented immigrant.

In 1960, I escaped Cuba in fear of political repercussion. At the time of this, the most momentous decision of my life, I was an impetuous 19 year-old, ready to fight in the counter-revolution. My parents wisely asked me to leave the country for a month, to cool off. Since I had the good fortune of already having a valid US tourist visa and the Cuban Government exit permit, my exile began uneventfully. I simply got an airplane ticket and left, never to return. When I arrived in Miami, an immigration officer asked me some pointed questions about my intentions. He quickly ascertained that if I went back to Cuba, my life could be in danger. He offered me political asylum. If it was not because of this specific US policy toward Cubans, I would have become an undocumented immigrant because it did not take me long to realize that it would be folly for me to join one of the many groups talking about fighting Castro. My visa would have expired and I would have stayed as an undocumented immigrant. I could not return. I can only imagine what today's undocumented immigrants go through. Leaving your country, your friends, and your family behind, getting to know a new country with different language, customs and laws is never easy. On top of this, undocumented immigrants are forced to live in the shadows, constantly afraid of being reported to the authorities or totally under the influence of an employer. Worse, imagine being the child of undocumented immigrants and having no option but to come one's parents.

When immigration reform is finally enacted, millions of children of undocumented immigrants, most likely, will be able to access higher education and some form of financial aid. The smart ones will go to selective independent colleges with scholarships, others will attend state colleges but the majority will go to a community college.

After WWII, when millions of veterans returned with GI Bills in hand and overwhelmed the universities, the Truman Commission of 1947 called on community colleges to receive the returning veterans. After the Higher Education Act of 1965 was passed and members of ethnic minorities and the poor were able to use Federal Financial Aid to go to college, and the universities were, once again overwhelmed, the number of community colleges mushroomed and welcomed this new population of students. At approximately the same period of time, when the Vietnam War was raging and many avoided the draft by claiming educational deferments, the community colleges accepted them. Now, we will have another wave of students, many of them with different needs from that of the general population. Community colleges will be there once again.

College officials must prepare their institutions to receive this new population of students. They must recognize the similarities and celebrate the differences these students bring to higher education. In some ways, these students are no different than our current students: They will have attended a US high school for at least 2 years and graduated or obtained a GED or equivalent. But, in other ways they are different. Most likely, they will be traumatized and sensitive to discrimination; as first generation college students, they will have a limited understanding of American higher education; they generally will come from the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder and will need financial assistance; and, they will have cultural and language barriers.

It is in the public interest to graduate as many previously undocumented immigrants as it is possible. Community colleges should closely examine the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) developed by CUNY as a good way to serve this new population of at-risk students. Effective academic and student support services have proven to have an impact on retention and graduation rates. Not all colleges will be able to replicate the CUNY initiative but by emulating this program they will improve student success.

At the heart of the ASAP is an enhancement of academic and student support services. Although not all previously undocumented students may be able to attend full-time, some of the elements of the ASAP program may be adopted by many community colleges.

Extended orientation programs have a significant impact on retention. In addition to the traditional orientation program, some modules that recognize the specific needs of previously undocumented students should be incorporated.

Learning communities can be very effective for this population of students. In learning communities students can find comfort in numbers; they can find security in having mentors who were themselves "without papers." Extracurricular activities associated with learning communities can also be helpful. This is a good vehicle for group identification. Activities that celebrate their cultures are empowering for self-esteem. Previously undocumented students may have a lot of drive but chances are that they may lack confidence as college students. In most cases these students are first generation college students and, most likely, their high school education was not stellar. Furthermore, in some cultures, there may be family pressures not to continue with school; parents who come from countries where a high school diploma is an achievement and who are generally skeptical of higher education see greater value in having their children go to work than to "waste" their time in school.

Tutoring is another way to ensure student persistence. At- risk students are prone to shy away from asking for help. Undocumented students may see asking for help as a form of weakness. Peer tutoring, especially if performed by another previously undocumented student, can be a very powerful retention tool. Not only do the students get academic help but also, while being tutored, they can get informal counseling on how to survive the college experience. High impact academic activities such as original research or group projects can assist students in making the work meaningful, work that, at times, may seem burdensome or irrelevant.

Extended orientation programs, learning communities, extracurricular programs, tutoring, high impact academic activities and attention to their self-esteem issues many go a long way to transforming previously undocumented students from at-risk to successful students.

For those who graduate, loss of credit upon transferring to a baccalaureate institution can be yet another insurmountable barrier for this population of students. Colleges nationwide must emulate CUNY, SUNY and other systems that have clearly stated policies for a smooth transition from community college to the baccalaureate-granting colleges. For the independent colleges that depend on articulation agreements for transfer, regional clearinghouses could be established that will enable easy access to transfer agreements and, then, students can tailor their course of study to maximize the transfer of credits.

These measures are not inexpensive. Enhanced academic and student services require more resources per students. But, the ASAP program has shown that the public recuperates its investment through increased graduation rates that lead to better jobs that, in turn, lead to better wages and increased tax revenues. In addition, the benefits to society extend beyond the fiscal considerations. Educated populations generally attract more businesses; communities tend to be safer and healthier. This contributes to a better quality of life for all the members of the community. It simply makes sense to educate the largest possible number of people. Let us prepare community colleges to embrace previously undocumented immigrants by putting put in place programs that increase graduation rates. #

Eduardo Marti, former Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges at CUNY, President Emeritus, Queensborough Community College, serves as Trustee at Teachers College and the Council for Aid to Education. Most recently, he served on NY Governor Cuomo's Commission on Reform of Education.

All events are free and open to the public

Brain-Gazing: A visual journey from the cosmos to the self
Friday, March 7 at 7:00 p.m.
301 Pupin Hall

Join astronomer Matt Turk (Columbia University) and neuroscientist Jonathan Fisher (New York Medical College) to preview Neurodome (www.neurodome.org) a planetarium show about the brain. This event is co-hosted by Columbia Astronomy Public Outreach (http://outreach.astro.columbia.edu/)


Community Brain Expo
Wednesday, March 12 (3-5 pm)
Kolb Annex, 40 Haven Ave
Columbia University Medical Center

Students, parents, and teachers are invited to test, trick, and learn about their brain at the Community Brain Expo at Columbia University Medical Center.

RSVP: http://brainexpo2014.eventbrite.com


Autism: Human Social Behavior and Communication
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Brain Insight Lecture
Wednesday, March 19, 6:30 p.m.
Miller Theatre
2960 Broadway
Columbia University (Morningside campus)

Join autism expert Catherine Lord, Ph.D. (NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center) as she discusses emerging insights in autism.

About Me

Homeroom is the place to go for quick news on what is happening in education around the world. Remember how you had to check in to homeroom for attendance and daily schedule changes in intermediate school as well as high school? Education Update has created this section...Read More

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