We are now touring possible schools and classrooms for Leelo. The first tour is tomorrow: The Morgana Center in San José (thanks to Melissa for the tip). Here are notes from my conversation with one of the school's educational directors:
The Morgana Center is a school for "moderate to severe" autistic children. They serve students from ages 3 to 22. They have a lot of children whose greatest needs are behavioral, and they have a lot of experience in helping these children manage and modify these behaviors. Their approach is that most of these behaviors are attempts to communicate, and that once they figure out what the children are trying to tell them, they can modify the child's environment accordingly. They have had a lot of success using this approach.
They have a 1:1 student/staff ratio, with 8 kids max in a classroom. Most classrooms have at least one credentialed teacher and an intern; the rest of the staff are instructional aides.
The Morgana Center's model is to have all instruction broken into 15 minute increments. They acknowledge that this can be a very long time for some of their students.
The children have a different staff member for each fifteen minute interval; no one is "assigned" to any particular student. This serves several functions: The kids get used to different staff members and change, but within a predictable structure. This also means that no staff has to deal with a truly difficult child for more than fifteen minutes, which they feel is reasonable. The woman I spoke to says that this both helps the program from getting upended should a particularly talented teacher leave, and prevents the staff from getting burned out -- thereby keeping their staff attrition quite low.
The curriculum is modified for each child, they work on IEP goals every day. Kids who need PECs or TEACCH (sp?) use those systems. All speech and OT is push-in. Staff stay with the kids throughout all recesses and breaks. Mornings tend to be "academic" whereas afternoons focus more on art, music, community excursions, and independent living skills.
Sounds like it could be a good match for Leelo. Though I know some of my friends' kids have had real problems with the rotating staff model, as it is used in some of the county classrooms. If I have time I'll record how the visit went.
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