The Kennedy Krieger Institute’s work in improving the lives of children and adolescents with developmental disabilities and disorders of the brain is internationally recognized as a model for innovative care. Learning Links wanted to take a peek at what the day-to-day of this world famous program looked like. We had a chance to sit down with the Director of Education at the Kennedy Krierger Institute, Montgomery County, Terry Scott, and hear how this very successful program works.
Can you tell us a little bit about the program?
Montgomery County Public Schools were looking for a way to improve its care for children with developmental disabilities and brain disorders. They came to Kennedy Krieger and requested they open a County-based campus. We opened in 2007. Our kids have a very complicated profile. In most cases we are the last stop for a school setting before these kids find themselves in a more restricted environment. By the time the students get to us, it is pretty clear that the traditional ways of educating aren’t working.
That must be quite a challenge. How do you approach it?
Our work is very creative. These kids challenge us to be innovative constantly. Most importantly our work here is very collaborative. Meetings are an essential part of our structure. We talk. We share. We come up with solutions. On the whole this is a very labor-intensive process with a lot of data collection. We rely on the data. It is important for us to know that our strategies are working and also that they aren’t.
What are some of those strategies?
Technology is a major part of the program. We visit a lot of schools to see what works and what doesn’t and we are not shy about investigating the next new thing coming along. In our classrooms we have iPads and Smartboards that help our students in many ways. Again it is about seeing what works and what doesn’t.
So how do you keep on top of it?
It is a process. There are so many Apps that are helpful and new ones that are constantly being created. Staying on top is a group effort. Many times it is a parent who make suggestions for an App they are using. One thing that has been a great success is using the iPad for video modeling.
Video Modeling is when you film someone such as a teacher or parent modeling a behavior you would like the children to work towards. The students can watch the model behavior as many times as necessary and learn what is called for in a particular situation. For many in our population, visual learning is a strength. For these kids learning through seeing is extremely powerful. The iPad makes it much easier.
What’s your staff like?
We have a very dedicated and well-trained staff. You really need a passion to do this work every single day. A high level of enthusiasm for this is crucial. Trust me, no one is in it for the money. Dedication is important. We work long hours. And like I said before, our work is collaborative. You have to be able to work together and communicate. The student profiles are very complex here, which means our teachers really have to be able to problem solve.
How do you reach out to the community?
We have about eight to ten business partnerships where we work with local businesses to get involved with their services. One really great one for us is Fitness For Health. It is a health club where they have a lot of specially designed equipment for athletes. Working with a guy who has Aspergers, the club redesigned some of the equipment to better meet the needs of people with autism. We try to bring all our classes there once every two weeks. It has become a great complement to our adapted Physical Education program.
Any tips for other schools that might want to get involved with partnerships?
The biggest tip I have is to demystify and educate the parties involved with the partnerships. Problems do come up. So it is crucial to have good communication and a point person at the job site. Whenever we approach a business, we really try to focus in on the skills they are looking for. It is not easy. It takes perseverance and prioritizing of need. By that I mean “How does it serve our kids?” For example, we have a lot of kids reaching job age so those opportunities are important. We have a partnership with a local pizza restaurant that has been very positive. Our kids work under the guidance of their Kennedy Krieger aid and do a great job. In some cases our students are better workers than the typically developing kids that they are working alongside.
And you also create those opportunities in school?
That’s right. Every Friday we turn our gym into a mini restaurant called the Croc Café. The kids go through the entire restaurant experience. They do set up, take orders, wait tables and even cook. We keep the food simple. Hotdogs are a favorite. It gives us the opportunity to control work experiences and provide training. Everyone loves it. It takes a lot of time but it is very beneficial.
How do you relax from your very stressful job?
Managing stress is an open discussion among our staff. It is part of the job in many ways. I always tell staff, “Don’t get too high with success or too low with defeat.” I’ve found it is easier as an administrator to take that step back. The teachers are in the class working with the kids in a different way. But that said, I have a lot of hobbies and interests that help me let go. I use to play basketball in college and I have three kids who play. My oldest is playing in college now and I coach my two younger daughters in basketball. I play and coach. Also the long drive home helps a lot!
KENNEDY KRIEGER INSTITUTE
Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal system, the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD, serves more than 20,000 individuals each year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how disorders develop while pioneering new interventions and earlier diagnosis. For more information on the Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit www.kennedykrieger.org. Click here for more information about the Montgomery County Campus.
Teachers at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Montgomery County maintain an informal list of Apps for social skills and autism spectrum disorders. Click here to download this valuable resource.