Camelot Education Offers Intensive Residencies for Therapeutic Day School Leaders
As part of Camelot Education’s continuing professional learning program, a group of 20 Camelot Education therapeutic day school (TDS) administrators participated in a two-day, immersive professional development residency at Camelot’s South Suburban Center for Exceptional Learners in Custer Park.
“This training is customized for our staff and administrators who work with our special needs students,” explained Camelot’s superintendent of schools, Dr. Joseph Carter. “Our focus is on students with autism, cognitive disabilities, and social-emotional disabilities. We talk a lot about trauma, the challenges our students face, and practice methods to surround these students with support.”
Carter says the most important thing a child must feel before he or she can learn is a sense of safety, both physically and emotionally. Camelot’s TDS residency program reinforces time-tested, evidence-based philosophies, tools and processes to help staff members create that sense of security through the relationships they form with students.
“After students feel safe with us, then they can open up to the hard work of learning. At our schools, social-emotional learning is not an event. It is infused in everything we do – all day, every day – from greeting students at the door each morning to monitoring students’ behavior throughout the day. This allows us to understand each student, identify what is contributing to any troubling signs they project, and help them positively change their response.”
At the residencies, outside experts on autism and other special needs areas augment the training by Camelot’s own expert educators. These practices and therapies make up the essential components of the therapeutic day programming.
Nicole Davenport, executive director at South Suburban Center for Exceptional Learners and Head of Education for Camelot’s therapeutic day schools, organizes and oversees the professional development. She also joined two of her colleagues, Karen Fletcher, principal of Camelot of Mount Prospect, and South Suburban Center for Exceptional Learners’ education director, Patti Babicz, to host a session on instructional strategies and how those can be incorporated into therapeutic day programming.
Other Camelot presenters included:
- Jenne Scholz, special education director at Camelot KAPS (K–7 Alternative Pupil Support) program in Philadelphia, presented on childhood trauma.
- Katie Schweizer, a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst who oversees behavior services for Camelot’s therapeutic day schools in Illinois, presented on behavioral management intervention.
- Lindsay Rossmiler, a Board-Certified Music Therapist and head of Camelot’s Expressive Therapies department, presented on expressive therapies and how they are integrated into the therapeutic day programming for students. She explained how expressive therapies (music, art, etc.) support behavior management, communication and academics.
- Sunny Eartly, a Camelot registered occupational therapist, presented on the role of occupational therapies in an educational setting and principles of sensory integration.
- Eric Kasper, a teacher at South Suburban Center for Exceptional Learners, presented on the Rounds Observation Model, used by teachers to observe each other and provide feedback in order to improve their instructional practices.
The two outside experts included:
- Linda Hoeck, an autism expert with over 30 years’ experience in education for students age 3 to young adults, presented on the Ziggurat framework, a comprehensive planning model for students with autism. Teachers and administrators at Camelot’s therapeutic day schools apply this framework to student programming.
- Lisa Harrod, superintendent of Manteno Community Unit School District No. 5 and a national education consultant, hosted a session on differentiation for educators and delivered best practices to incorporate individual instruction for each student.
“The professional learning presentations take place in our training room, and then we have the practical portion of the series where trainees watch the tools they just learned being used in our classrooms. That’s where the action is,” said Camelot Education’s deputy superintendent for therapeutic day schools, Theresa Mortl Smith.
The key takeaway from the training, according to Nicole Davenport, is that none of these strategies works in isolation. “All programming in our therapeutic schools is connected,” she said.
Following the professional development series, the feedback we received was phenomenal.
“The school leaders told us they found the series tremendously beneficial,” Davenport said. “They appreciated learning how trauma can affect students in so many ways and how they can support a student who may have experienced trauma. They valued practicing the various ways to differentiate lessons and understanding how expressive therapies affect all the other areas we talked about. They liked the sessions on communication from a speech pathologist and sensory integration, including making a sensory item, a water bottle with glitter that you can shake. They were able to use it, and feel it, so they can also see what the student will experience from their perspective.”
All of the Camelot therapeutic day schools in Illinois plan to send teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, and principals to future residencies. The next two are scheduled for October and November with two additional sessions in March and July.
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