Ramapo for Children is here at SUNY New Paltz to enhance everyone’s experience‚ in and outside the classroom. And they brought their toolbox.
On Wednesday, Jan. 23, Ramapo for Children held two, three-hour workshops‚ one from 9:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and the other from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.‚ to provide various faculty and staff members with a toolbox for supporting students on the Autism spectrum and with other behavioral challenges.
“I frequently encounter students who may have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the library front desk and when teaching information literacy sessions in the classroom,” said Library Liaison Colleen Lougen. “I wanted to develop a better understanding of how the library can support students with ASD and help them succeed academically.”
Thanks to alumna Myra Kressner, this workshop was made possible through the Kressner Family ASD Fund. Established at SUNY New Paltz in December of 2017, the Kressner Famliy ASD Fund is a three-year program intended to guide students as they navigate through college
“My daughter is on the Autism Spectrum and it was difficult to see her struggle to make these challenges and transitions at the college she attended,” Kressner said in a SUNY New Paltz News article. “I want all students to make the most of their time at New Paltz, because once they graduate, a whole range of opportunities can come their way.”
With 90 years of experience in service and training programs, the well-respected, consulting group from New York City has the slogan, “Building Relationships, Inspiring Success.”
According to their website, Ramapo for Children is built around the simple belief that all children want the same things: to learn, feel valued and experience success.
If this belief is Ramapo’s foundation, then Ramapo’s heart is their ability to equip educators, caregivers and youth with necessary skills to build trusting relationships, serve as role models, handle challenging behaviors constructively and always improve through reflection.
Last August, the SUNY New Paltz Dean of Students, Robin Cohen-La Valle, invited Ramapo for Children to campus for a workshop on building inclusive classrooms, mainly with people in Residence Life, Advising and other student support services.
“The workshop was so successful that we wanted to find a way to share this experience with our teaching faculty,” said Director of Faculty Development Center, Sarah Wyman.
According to Jean Vizvary, Director of the Disability Resource Center (DRC), there are over 550 students registered with the DRC this year, including students with physical, learning and mental health disabilities.
“We always try to assess the students’ needs and their current emotional state so that our responses can be heard and accepted,” Vizvary said. “We validate their feelings and move forward from that point in clarifying the situation, helping them to understand expectations and develop a plan to meet set goals.”
Ramapo acknowledges that certain behaviors could put young people at risk of being marginalized or alienated within schools and communities.
To combat this discrimination, Ramapo aims to support both the adults and young people‚ by encouraging adults to see challenging young people through a new lens and by helping young adults to align their behaviors with their aspirations.
“I think the most challenging thing is not jumping to reprimand a student who is engaging in disruptive behavior,” said Library Liaison Colleen Lougen. “Try to validate feelings, while advising the student to stop the behavior and offer alternatives. Often, there is an underlying unmet need or difficult feeling that causes the student to be disruptive.”
During the three-hour workshop, faculty participated in hands-on activities to hone in on six key content areas: role modeling, building relationships, clarifying expectations, establishing structures and routines, adapting for individual needs and responding, reflecting and repairing.
“All of these techniques are what we do every day in the DRC. We don’t always think of our work in these terms, but this is what we do,” Vizvary said. “The last one, ‘responding, reflecting and repairing‚‘ is probably the one that we do less frequently.”
The first four content areas revolve around strategies that focus on creating environments ample for supporting success. The fifth content area centers on students who have been identified as needing additional support, while the last content area focuses on proper responses when expectations have not been met.
“I feel fortunate to be able to benefit from this training and would be interested in future training on this topic,” Lougen said.
The workshop’s success could be attributed to the professionalism and organization of Alika Hope, the facilitator of the workshop and the founder of the Ray of Hope Project.
“We were all impressed by the amount of information and wisdom trainer Alika Hope imparted,” Wyman said. “She prepared us well to start the new semester determined to better manage our classroom environments so we can foster learning in our students.”
The applicable teaching practices reviewed during the workshop vary from active listening, ensuring student voice and input, to setting individual and collective goals for the class.
“Instructors cannot meet all the needs of every student in class, but they can certainly better understand the many ways individuals experience their classroom environment and how they learn best,” Wyman said.
Unfortunately, this informative and beneficial workshop was closed off to students, and only offered to faculty and staff members.
“I think that students could benefit from a training geared toward them with a focus on social situations and how to accept other people who are different into the group,” Vizvary said.
The DRC provides support to students with Autism Spectrum Disorders through regularly scheduled individual appointments and through workshops focusing on interpersonal and academic skills.
For more information about the DRC at SUNY New Paltz, visit www.newpaltz.edu/drc.