Staff at Camelot Education’s Therapeutic Day School of Naperville Keep Students, Families Engaged with Creative Lessons at Home
With remote learning in place across Illinois in response to the pandemic, the teachers, staff, and administrators of the Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Naperville, are digging deep to keep their students engaged, sustaining their academics, and keeping their spirits high.
“It’s hard to find the words to express how proud I am to be a part of such an amazing group of people,” said Craig Reveter, Executive Director of the Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Naperville. “We had a very short amount of time to prepare for the closing of the school building. Everyone stepped up, doing what needed to be done.
The school provides academic and therapeutic services for children, adolescents, and young adults, ages 5 through 21 whose Individualized Education Program (IEP) requires additional support for disabilities such as emotional and behavioral needs. Children with learning disabilities and children on the autism spectrum receive programming at the Naperville campus as well.
Jolene Delaney, Principal of the school, said that teaching and interacting remotely with the students present a different set of challenges and out-of-the-box thinking to meet their specific needs. While nothing will fully replicate or replace a live classroom experience, the school is fully committed to bringing the best of its immersive social-emotional learning and whole-child education model to all students in a distance-learning environment.
“We have students with significant needs, and we constantly need to coordinate our teaching efforts with our therapists,” Delaney said. “We keep families and students engaged and involved, focusing on academics and social-emotional development.”
A significant focus of the curriculum during this period of remote learning has been on developing life skills. Many tasks around the house directly relate to skills students can learn, particularly in math and reading. For example, making Jell-O, requires knowledge of fractions, measuring, reading and comprehension, and following directions. Learning how to do laundry or basic cooking is taking the place of transition skills discussed in the classroom.
Teachers are running synchronous classes via video conference where they can share their screen and show videos of a procedure such as processing food for a nutrition class. This sparks a variety of conversations and allows students to direct where the learning is going, rather than the teacher making all the decisions. Recordings of classes are also available for viewing any time to accommodate different scheduling needs.
“Our staff is simply amazing in how they’ve risen to meet the challenges that distance learning presents and how it affects our students,” said Delaney. “They’re unbelievably focused, mutually supporting our students, their families, and one another.”
In addition to creative lessons, the staff provides daily communications with students and families through video conferences, phone calls, text messages, and emails. This includes Group Guided Interaction, a designated time for small groups of students, teachers, and counselors to gather virtually. Teachers and counselors lead the discussion, and everyone can share thoughts and feelings to ensure the program addresses the school community’s mental health needs.
“Students love to show off pets and other things in their homes,” said Delaney. “They are welcoming staff into their environment, which is helping to keep the personal relationship that our model relies on to be effective.”
Reveter added, “It’s an impressive effort. We have a wonderful team of teachers, therapists, and support staff. And our families are right there with us. We’ve placed a lot of information into their hands, and they’ve been so accepting of their role. They’ve banded together with us. What we’re doing wouldn’t be possible without them. As for me, I just want to lend a hand wherever I can.”
In addition to recognizing the efforts to overcome the remote teaching challenges, Reveter wanted to honor the students with special needs and their families during Autism Awareness Month in April. He asked members of his local neighborhood to string blue lights or blue spotlights outside their homes or windows in support of the awareness month. The Naperville team will also be recognizing Mental Health Awareness throughout May. It will incorporate lime green, which is the color of the cause, into their attire for video calls and decorations within the community.