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Benefits of Immersion 3: Teachers Talk

“I love the end-of-the-year-all-staff-meeting when everyone and everything comes together and we get to visually see all the accomplishments that took place that year. It has always made me feel like I am a part of something bigger and gives me a huge sense of community and school pride. I also wanted to just say again that if an opportunity, project etc. comes up that you feel I may be able to contribute towards, please never hesitate to ask. I feel so blessed that I came to be a part of the Oakstone community 7 years ago, and honestly I do not have the words to express the gratitude and respect I have in  my heart for you.”             -A middle school/high school teacher

One of the things that students and families alike enjoy about our Academic and Social Immersion Model is the teachers. We hear time and time again about the impact that our teachers have in a child’s day, week, even a family’s daily life. We are proud of our outstanding teachers, but several things set them up for success in an immersion model.

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  1. Our teachers know what they signed up for. Our teachers are hired understanding that the school they work in is a model program for Academic and Social Immersion. They aren’t surprised by ratios of peers to students with ASD. They expect challenging behaviors or quirky communication issues. They want to be teaching all of the students in their classrooms, not just a portion of them. They have a passion not only for young people or for their subject matter, but for seeing the model succeed. Communicating expectations about immersion to staff helps keep everyone on the same page.

“ “Well, you did your best.” These five words from a graduating student at the end of an Exit IEP meeting make up one of the greatest compliments I’ve received during my career as a teacher.  As one of the last teachers students work with before leaving our academic and social immersion environment, I get the pleasure of seeing the rewards of our unique setting. Students graduate from Oakstone Academy prepared to take on whatever is next. Whether it is college, trade school, or competitive employment, our students are prepared.  They will succeed because they have been challenged by an educational model that pushes everyone to do their best. Teachers do their best to ensure students meet rigorous academic and social expectations and students push one another through positive peer pressure to participate in extracurricular activities, to reach out to a struggling friend, or to try a college-level course. We are all doing our best, and in turn, our students are thriving.  The academic and social immersion model at Oakstone Academy has taught me when “your best” is the expectation, everyone benefits (and sometimes along the way you get a nice compliment for your efforts).” – A high school intervention specialist

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2. Our teachers are members of a teaching and learning community.  The teachers in our Academic and Social Immersion Model not only have other teachers, intervention specialists, and paraprofessionals to rely on, but they also have ABAs, SLPs, and OTs who expect to be working in classrooms with the teaching team to improve student achievement. Additionally, all of our administrators were once teachers in the model, so the advice they give is based on experience in similar situations. Anything that we ask our teachers to do is based in researched best practice and has been tried by the person giving feedback.

“I want to preface this letter by reiterating that ALL of the teachers and staff at this preschool amaze me with their talent, compassion, love, and dedication (I could go on and on).  It is an AMAZING place to work. With that said, I wanted to just take a minute to really single Miss Bridget out. She had some kiddos with some tough challenges in her class this year and she and her team were the perfect teachers for this group!  Bridget’s calm demeanor was exactly what was needed for a couple of our easily over-aroused kiddos. She was able to maintain complete control with a steady, calm, and quiet voice/manner. Her patience was exactly what was needed for a couple of the kids with processing issues that did just really need someone to simply wait it out rather than repeating the request again and again. She reacted quickly and calmly to address behavior issues and seems to know just how to handle each of the kids’ very different needs when it comes to behaviors.  I saw her using tools that had been recommended for different kids and appreciated that she was open to suggestions. You would not know to look in her class that she actually started the year out with some of the school’s most challenging behavior issues. It was amazing to me to see where the kids in this class started out (from both a behavior stand point and a skill development standpoint) and where they ended up by year’s end. I learned a great deal from her and am looking forward to working in her class again sometime.” -An preschool occupational therapist  

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3. Our teachers feel supported by staff, parents, and each other.  Our teachers know that they can ask for help at any time to facilitate the best lesson, class, or interaction possible. They know that our parents have chosen this model and are on board with it (though sometimes still need education in it). They know that a free exchange of ideas is important to the success of the program and that asking for help is expected because no one has all of the answers.

 

“I have seen the benefits of an immersive environment through my cousin who attends (the school). When he was first diagnosed we were told that he would never be able to communicate, and that he was deaf because he would not respond to others. He also would not show any affection to his family members. He started attending Oakstone when he was 4 years old, he is now 16 years old. While he still considered non-verbal, he has made so many gains! He is able to communicate his needs, listen to others, and he will even hug his dad and other family members. I started working at Oakstone last year because I loved how much this school helped my cousin. I am now able to see first hand how this school and an immersive environment helps so many kids, and it’s so exciting to see how much they are able to grow. Today, our students had an assignment for morning work, their assignment was to write what they were thankful for. This leaf was written by one of our students who demonstrates how beneficial the immersive environment is for students.” -An elementary teacher

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4. Our teachers genuinely like doing what they do and feel personally connected to it.  Staff in our Academic and Social Immersion Model see growth happening before their eyes each and every day. They get excited by not only the big leaps, but the baby steps in learning, whether that learning is academic, social, emotional, or communication-based. Our staff continuously amaze us in their support of “our kids” as they sign up to travel with them, begin new extracurricular activities, or just go that extra mile to help a student understand a tough concept.

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For some of our students with ASD, our teachers are the first adults outside of their families who really “get” them and like them as they are. Our teachers don’t simply teach the Academic and Social Immersion Model; they live it everyday. They hold the keys to the program’s success.

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Benefits of Immersion Part 2: Don’t take our word for it!

In Academic and Social Immersion, students with disabilities are full members of the community. Imagine the difference that makes in their lives. We don’t have to imagine at Oakstone Academy because we see it everyday. We see lives being changed through immersion. Listen to a few of our students with autism spectrum disorder share the things that stand out to them about their school.

“The teachers are great. They are kind and respectful. They’re good at helping you with work. They just make school fun in general.” -10th grade student 

Teachers in Academic and Social Immersion are trained to work with all types of students. Differentiation is the norm–the expectation. Students with IEPs participate in the general education curriculum with supports added where needed and removed when the student is ready. Teachers are more positive and accepting of all types of students because this is literally what the teachers signed up for. The experience and knowledge these teachers have raises the bar of expectations for students with and without disabilities. The focus of instruction really becomes student understanding and engagement for all learners. Teachers celebrate success and progress, but never stop pursuing improved outcomes.

 

“I like learning now. I just want more leaning. That’s something that happened when I came to Oakstone.”  -6th grade student

Because teachers are trained and create a learning environment that works for many different types of learners, many students become passionate about learning. They feel smart–some for the first time. They feel capable and ready to take on challenges. They read more than they thought they could, write more than they ever have, and master content that surprises even their parents and teachers because they discover the inner motivation and passion for learning that comes from the feeling of success in school.

 

“I like that everybody’s kind here. They actually enforce the No Bullying policy. It (bullying) just doesn’t happen non-stop with no consequence.” -6th grade student

Immersion works when everyone is a member of the community. Students know when posters are hung and lip service is given to inclusion and anti-bullying, but the message is not ingrained in the culture. True inclusion can be messy and uncomfortable when students are held accountable for their words and their behaviors. Sometimes difficult conversations are needed, but they pay off in the positive and welcoming culture built in the school.

 

“We don’t have stereotypes or bullies or gossip or rumors. I don’t understand when my friends from other schools talk about those things. They just aren’t part of my life.” -7th grade student

Gossip and backstabbing, rumors and cliques….media and culture would tell us that those are all just part of middle school and high school.  But they don’t have to be. For many students these aspects of school take over their life and distract from learning and from building relationships. In an Academic and Social Immersion school, everyone has value because everyone is a fully-participating member of the group. Social and emotional learning, character education, and social skills training are incorporated in classes as well as extracurriculars. Everyone represents the school, and their individual and team success is celebrated, whether success for them is a basketball team victory or a great ACT score or a successful service project. All of these activities build the school’s identity and culture, so all are valued.

 

“I make a lot of friends here. The kids are cool.” -6th grade student

The power of a friend cannot be overstated. In the Academic and Social Immersion Model, we see students have friends. Students are invited to parties, hang out outside of school, or socialize online for the students who live further apart. We watch students help each other and look out for one another. We see true lasting friendships between students of all abilities and backgrounds.

 

“The atmosphere of the school? Thumbs up! I’m me here, and people like me for me. That’s a new one.” -8th grade student

Middle school and high school are challenging times for everyone as adolescents figure out who they are. Some kids like gaming; other prefer sports. Some want to dress like a Abercrombie model, while others prefer worn jeans and concert tees. In Academic and Social Immersion, everyone has a place and is respected, regardless of interests. While we actively teach students with social impairments how to behave appropriately in social settings, we also support individual interests. It feels good to be accepted.  

 

“I love Oakstone with all my heart and the school literally changed my life, socially, mentally, and physically. You don’t see our level of inclusion in any other schools. They are a second family to me. Without Oakstone, I wouldn’t have the social skills I have today.” -12th grade student

Academic and Social Immersion does not stop at the classroom door. Students feel safe and accepted in extracurriculars and social events as well. Students step outside the box of their own interests and join clubs or teams that may be a stretch for them because they know the group will catch them if they fall. The success they feel during the school day extends to many different events.

 

While we adults who facilitate Academic and Social Immersion believe strongly in what we do, it’s the students who see the results and carry the model forward. Academic and Social Immersion is not a fad or an add-in. It is a powerful tool for building a school climate of acceptance, success, and confidence.

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Benefits of Immersion, Part 1

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Maybe you have read some previous posts on this blog and think that Academic and Social Immersion sounds too good to be true.

Maybe you are thinking that this model would work “if only” you had different administration, different parents, different students…different everything.

Maybe you are wondering why a parent of a typically developing child would choose to have them included in this type of model.

Maybe you have seen great results from another type of program and are afraid to rock the boat of stability and familiarity.

Don’t take our word for it. Here are some things that a few of our parents have to say about Academic and Social Immersion and their experiences:

  • “When we first got here, we couldn’t go to a restaurant as a family because we were concerned about our child’s behaviors, but as we’ve had the benefit of the school, those things have really normalized for us. We can go anywhere.”
  • “I have to say that you made my son feel on top of the world! He beamed over his (citizenship) certificate as soon as he got in the car. We went to show my parents and his big sister. I am so proud of him. This is a boy that begged me to homeschool last year because he didn’t want to go. The social struggle was a huge part of it. As a mom, I just want to send a big hug and thank you!”
  • “(My son’s) been so excited to go to school this week.  I think he was really used to being different and feeling unconnected from the other kids. I don’t think they really interested him all that much because the interactions were so unfulfilling. He is having the exact opposite response at Oakstone.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted this for him.”
  • “My son is the living proof of the miracles and commitment provided by Oakstone Academy…At Oakstone, everyone (admin and teachers) are committed to the individual growth and success in the social setting where all the students support one another. No one has a disability at Oakstone. All are abled and the talents of the children there shine.”

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We ask that you check out the research. (We have some on our PUBLICATIONS tab above.) Check out the Oakstone Academy social media sites to see happy students of all abilities immersed in the natural school environment from preschool circle time all the way to high school dances. Come to one of our professional development institutes. Contact us for more information. We passionately believe in the success of academic and social immersion because we see that success happening every day.