Shared concepts will help students succeed ◆ By Mike Hiles
Making things better for all Noli Indian School students was the purpose for its staff and other interested individuals to attend the annual General & Special Education Conference in Seattle on March 8, 9 and 10. The three-day long event focused on "Brain-based Science, Learning and Achievement."
The Soboba Reservation school serves 160 Native American students in grades 6 through 12, which includes about 30 that have been identified to receive special education services.
"In the past, the special education department attended this conference but this year administration and some school board members went to get up-to-date information on how to work with students with special needs or those who suffer from different trauma," Principal Donovan Post said.
Internationally renowned speakers presented on a variey of topics that included learning disabilities, school-based mental health, behavioral challenges in the classroom and increasing academic achievement at The Conference Center at Washington State Convention Center.
"You get information on how to work with students that have special needs due to learning disabilities, students who come from broken homes, students who face violence in the home and even students who deal with suicidal thoughts and depression," Post said. "It's a heavy conference with a serious tone. It can be a difficult three days to digest all this information, but it gives you new insight to what some of our students deal with and a better understanding of how to help them."
The purpose of having more than the special education department attend is because all staff members work with at-risk students and this type of conference can provide awareness of what it feels like for a student who has a disability or struggles to cope with a death, rape, abuse or other traumatic situations in his or her young life.
"This, in turn, gives teachers a better understanding into how to run their classroom," Post said.
Desirae Cosby, Sonia Modesto and Robert Stover from Noli's special education department joined Post at the conference along with Noli School Board members Sandy Boniface, Geneva Mojado and president/chair Michael Placencia as well as Soboba Tribal Council treasurer Kelli Hurtado.
"The school board wanted a better comprehension of what these kids deal with on a daily basis," Post said.
He said one of the eye-opening but difficult experiences he had at the conference was listening to kids who deal with severe depression and how they hide it from family and friends and have almost committed suicide. "They made the turn but they were talking about how school changed for them and the medication they have to be on and how it affects them in the classroom and social settings," Post said. Breakout sessions covered a variety of topics and Post told each attendee to go to any classes that really interested them and any they felt would be useful at work. There were 24, in-depth, full-day courses designed for general and special education teachers as well as some aimed at administrators, counselors and support professionals. Course objectives for participants in "Think Smart: Using Mindsets and Metacognition for Student Success" included a demonstrated ability to create a safe learning environment that engages all learners – culturally, emotionally and academically. Presenters Dr. Jack Naglieri and Kathleen Kryza, were able to explain the relationship between neurocognitive abilities and social-emotional competence and describe how teachers can empower students at all grade levels by teaching them about how their brains work. "Even though the conference was geared for special education it was also great for helping teachers who work with very difficult students that are always in trouble," he said. "This is the area where any teacher could learn some better classroom management techniques. Also, any teacher can benefit from new ideas on how to work better with special education students as most of them are mainstreamed into the regular academic classrooms." Post said attending the conference and returning to Noli Indian School with solid information to share with the other staff will help them all grow, allowing them to serve students better.