Virtual Learning and Autism
How the Crossroads School is maintaining successful outcomes during the pandemic.
The whole world has changed; we’re all in the midst of new work environments, new methods of education and the paradox of isolation from society while in constant contact with those in our homes. Education of the nation’s children is obviously an essential service, but how can educators deliver on that responsibility? How does the autism and disABILITIES community switch to virtual learning and address the students’ individualized needs? Bike to the Beach sat down with Kelley Borer-Miller from the Crossroads School in Marlborough, MA to learn how they maintain perspective and successful outcomes for their students and families.
Maintain Community and Communication
Although surviving separately in their own homes, families are in similar situations trying to replicate an effective environment for education and stability. Of course Crossroads School has done the necessary work of providing technology and virtual classroom experiences to their students, but Borer-Miller focuses on keeping the community together through this tumultuous time. They’ve found surprises along the way as they’ve had fun getting creative with outreach and events. When a previously planned fundraiser and kickoff to Autism Awareness Month had to be cancelled, Crossroads quickly reorganized and offered a virtual, online Social Dis-Dance Party. This event was so wildly popular that now families gather weekly with different guest DJs and party themes. Students, staff and their families have gathered week after week to dance together, view everyone’s skills on the Zoom “dance floor,” and do the vital work of sticking together as a community.
The Crossroads staff has even made personal sacrifices to keep continuity with families. One teacher is officially on paternity leave, at home caring for his family and newborn baby. But in this time of COVID, he’s bouncing a newborn in his arms while virtually checking in with his Crossroads students. The parents at the school report that this over-the-top dedication is what binds the community together. Additionally, Crossroads School, like most schools in America, holds a spring vacation week. Cognizant of the needs of their students, parts of the Crossroads staff have continued to keep actively engaged with their students by hosting a virtual day camp. Each day the students have been invited to learn and interact with their classmates and a variety of animals and pets. Even while on vacation, the staff is committed to maintaining connection with the students as they navigate this “new normal.”
Offer Specific Support
In times of grief, chaos or need we often hear friends saying,
“I’m here! I’ll support you! Let me know what you need.”
While genuine and sincere, for some the only response to those offers of help is
“I don’t even know WHAT I need!”
The staff at Crossroads has learned that in this intense time, parents don’t always know how to respond to general offers of help. But they can recognize if they do or do not need something that is specifically presented.
“Can I bring you an iPad so your child can move or dance during music class?”
“I have a communication board to hang on your refrigerator. May I put it in the mail for you?”
“Open your email to view a photo of our typical classroom setup so you can mimic the layout.”
These specific offers of help allow parents to accept tools and guidance, when they’re trying their hardest to navigate a situation drastically outside the realm of normal.
Recognize Positive Outcomes
It’s hard to see positive outcomes when we’re in the trenches. But in this moment of societal pause, Kelley believes we can hear each other better. We can take this opportunity to serve. We just need to open ourselves up to the possibility that good things can be exposed during our “break” from school. At Crossroads, students, parents, teacher and staff are now connecting as families, as whole units and not just student-to-teacher or staff-to-parent. From the dance parties at night to siblings, dogs and family members popping in and out of videoconferences, students are learning about each other and the unique, minuscule societies that exist in each of our homes. There is a deeper sense of belonging, as an entire family becomes the student, not just the child. Parents are also seeing their children in an environment where they are normally absent; they have become the proverbial flies on the walls of the classroom. At Crossroads parents have expressed surprise and joy as they’ve seen their children jump up, interact or be the first to respond in a virtual class.
Bike to the Beach wants to offer sincere thanks to all of our non-profit partners who never quit! We’re hopeful that the negative effects of this global pandemic will diminish and our society is able to come out stronger for the effort. In the meantime, join us, along with partners like Crossroads School to serve vital and essential members of the autism and disABILITIES community.