Ending the MPRRC after thirty-four years

October 29, 2014 by Sue Reeves

Image of blue door.

It is said that when one door closes, another opens, and TAESE staff will keep looking for new opportunities.

The last several months have been tumultuous and bittersweet at the Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE). In March, TAESE was awarded a five-year contract to provide professional development and technical assistance to special educators in the state of Utah. In April and May, however, it was learned that a long-running project, the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center (MPRRC), might be ending.

Staff meetings during that period of time were difficult, said John Copenhaver, TAESE director.

The emotions in the office ranged from excitement for the new Center in Utah to disappointment that the MPRRC was closing.

The MPRRC was first established in 1980 and was funded for thirty-four years by the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. The MPRRC was one of six Regional Resource Centers (RRCs) across the United States

“We thought the MPRRC would always be around,” Copenhaver said. “The MPRRC provided excellent services to State special education directors, SEA staff and Part C Coordinators for those many years.”

A statement was issued in April that the RRCs would no longer be funded and a RFP would soon be created to fund one larger center—the Center for Systemic Improvement. TAESE partnered with other agencies and wrote a proposal for the new center. Ultimately, WestEd was awarded the contract. MPRRC’s operations ended as of September 30, and several of the staff members lost their jobs.

“After thirty-four years, it’s a pretty big deal,” Copenhaver said. “I’ve never had to let people go before. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

On the positive side, TAESE has numerous contracts across the United States, and many MPRRC staff members were absorbed into those contracts.

When one door closes, other doors are opened. TAESE staff members are always looking out for the next opportunity—even with this setback, the future continues to be bright.

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The dignity of risk

October 27, 2014 by Sue Reeves

Image of bubble wrap.

It would be much easier to bubble-wrap children than allow them to fail, but it is often in taking a risk that learning occurs.

Risk is a part of success. All accomplishments come from some level of risk-taking. It’s how people learn.

“You first learn to walk by falling down,” said Judith Holt, director of the Interdisciplinary Training Division at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities. “You fall down a lot. Eventually, you learn things to keep from falling. You will never learn balance unless you fall. You don’t learn unless you have experience. You don’t gain experience without failure.

“We all learn by making choices, and sometimes that doesn’t end up to our benefit,” she said.

Parents want to see their child succeed, but often do whatever they can to reduce the risk to the child. For parents of people with intellectual disabilities, the need to protect is higher, as the expectations become lower. Trying to keep everything in a little bubble becomes the focus, Holt said.

“Risk is better in terms of learning. We’re not talking about unreasonable risk, but the risks you learn from,” Holt said. “If we don’t let people with disabilities take risks, we are denying them what it means to be human. To be human, you need agency. You need opportunities. It’s hard for a parent to let go of any child, but to let go of a child with a disability, it’s even harder.”

Allowing people with disabilities to take reasonable risks is part of treating them as the adults they are. Allowing risks does not mean being unsafe, or setting them up to fail. It means providing them with the opportunities to experience new things, to discover their strengths and use them to achieve what they never thought possible.

“We don’t want to throw them off the deep end,” Holt said. “We want to let them stretch, to do new things. There will be failure. There’s a certain dignity to that.”

Mummy Wrap added to Halloween event

October 24, 2014 by Sue Reeves

Image of cartoon mummy

Gather your teams for the Mummy Wrap! See story for details.

By  Chris Glaittli, social media intern

It is a trick and a treat for Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities at the first-ever Very Scary Halloween Party, open to all staff and students.

This Halloween party isn’t just food, games, contests and good fun. It is also a chance for the CPD to pull everyone together from the different divisions and programs, according to Shane Johnson, associate director for development for the CPD.

“The Halloween party is an effort to engage the students who are working or doing internships at the CPD,” Johnson said. “So often, they will say, ‘I work at ASSERT’ or ‘I work at Up to 3,’ but they don’t connect with the CPD as a whole. We’re hoping to change that by creating a fun way to interact with staff and other students so they really can say, ‘I am the CPD.’”

Currently, around 200 students work within the CPD’s various programs.

One of the ways staff and students can connect is by forming teams for the Mummy Wrap, a newly announced event at the party. Teams consisting of two students and one staff member can race the clock to wrap one team member in toilet paper. The team with the fastest time wins! No pre-registration is necessary.

The Halloween party will also feature a CPD trivia contest, a costume contest, a photo booth, and the opportunity to zap a zombie

This spook-tastic event will take place in the Haunted Lab (CPD 170) from 11:30 a.m to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, October 31.


ASSERT finds success in expansion

October 22, 2014 by Sue Reeves

By Natalie Nix, social media intern

Image of little girl and teacher with iPad.

An ASSERT student communicates with her teacher via an iPad app.

The Autism Support Services: Education, Research, and Training (ASSERT) program at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities has added an additional afternoon session to the program and administrators have so far been pleased with its success. The new session was the result of increased funding received from the state of Utah.

“Since our current classroom space was not large enough to accommodate four additional students, we decided to open up an afternoon session instead,” said Dr. Thomas Higbee, the director of ASSERT.

Higbee said that preparations for the expansion took place throughout the summer, some of which included training additional staff and rearranging the classroom to make more effective use of the space.

Lyndsay Nix, the ASSERT program coordinator, said that even though it takes more “coordinating,” having two sessions has allowed them to hire more staff because they are now more flexible with schedules.

“Adding an afternoon session has also facilitated our research by giving us additional access to students to run our research projects,” Higbee said. “It has also given us more flexibility when scheduling observations or training sessions as we can schedule them in either the morning or the afternoon.”

Nix said that it is fun to have students there all day, but it definitely affects time management for staff meetings and additional work that has to take place after the students have left.

“While it has certainly increased the amount of administrative time that is required to manage the program,” Higbee said, “the ability to serve more families has been worth it.”

Higbee said that two more families will be added to the program in January, bringing the total to 14 families.

“All in all, while difficult, the expansion has been a very positive thing for ASSERT,” Higbee said. “We have been able to help more families of children with autism, which is the most important thing.”

TAESE gets two new projects

October 20, 2014 by Sue Reeves

TAESE logoThe Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE) at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities is a partner in two new projects that will begin soon.

TAESE is one of several partners, including Westat and WestEd, that will be working on the IDEA Data Management Center (IDMC). The grant was awarded to Applied Engineering Management Corporation (AEM) for 5 years at $2.5 million annually.

Steven Smith of TAESE will be serving as the Deputy Director for the IDMC, and another TAESE employee will be fulfilling an as yet undefined role. IDMC’s central goals are to:

1. Improve the capacity of State Education Agencies (SEAs) to meet the IDEA Part B Sections 616 and 618 data collection and reporting requirements.

2. Assist SEAs in restructuring their existing data systems and in aligning their data collection for students with disabilities to the data collection for the general student population in their State-wide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS).

3. Improve the validity and reliability of the data reported to the Secretary of Education and the public as required under Sections 616 and 618 of IDEA.

The IDEA Fiscal Data Center (IFDC) project was awarded to WestEd for 5 years at $3.2 million annually. TAESE is one of several partners, including American Institutes of Research (AIR) and Westat.

Smith will be the Knowledge Development Functional Team lead, Wayne Ball will be the Technical Assistance and Dissemination Functional Team lead, and Shauna Crane will be the Technology and Communication Functional Team lead. IFDC’s goals are to:

1. Improve the capacity of State staff to collect and report accurate fiscal data to meet the data collection requirements related to the IDEA Part B local education agency maintenance of effort reduction and coordinated early intervening services and State maintenance of financial support.

2. Increase State staff’s knowledge of the underlying fiscal requirements and the calculations necessary to submit valid and reliable data on local education agency maintenance of effort/coordinated early intervening services and State maintenance of financial support.