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Academic Department

It is hard to fathom that we are nearing the end of October, raking up those leaves blowing about the yard and considering another possible apple picking trip before the snow flies. Everyone has been very, very busy the past several weeks getting settled into the new school year, establishing routines for learning and providing support for our students. It is important to acknowledge how hard everyone has been working preparing classrooms, putting together lessons and learning how to effectively work together as we have new teams organized in all of our academic programs this year.

Improving communications is one of the goals of the office of the Director of Instruction this year. One avenue to achieve this has been the publishing of the Weekly Window. This is an internal communications newsletter that we are putting together on a weekly basis. The Weekly Window, now in its 8th week, is designed to share updates on important activities for the upcoming week(s), postings of meetings and events specific to our different programs/classrooms. It also includes a monthly calendar and a brief Director’s memo. Responses to the newsletter have been overwhelmingly positive but there are further improvements ahead as we work to refine the contents so that everyone has access to timely information.

We had a great turnout at the annual Deaf Culture Festival here on Mackworth Island and it was great to see such a large gathering of the deaf community, associated friends and family members. There were many questions asked about our academic programs and it was very helpful to have recent videos and pictures available for our lobby monitor that folks could view throughout the day. Thanks to Matt Welch and a number of our students who sold bratwursts to help our athletic program as well as to Jennifer McCann who supervised the children’s area. That bouncy house was very busy! Many thanks also to Tracey Dulac who helped with our Academic Department kiosk in the gymnasium. It was wonderful to see so many of our staff members come to this year’s festival and enjoy the activities and the many diverse crafts and offerings. Finally, a huge thank you goes to both Josh and Liz Seal who assumed the task of organizing the event. Outstanding job indeed!

Another anticipated September event is the Governor’s Deaf Tea at the State House in Augusta which, this year, included a student tour of both the Senate and House chambers where our elected lawmakers work to improve the lives of Maine residents.
Students were permitted to sit in Representatives seats in the House chamber (this was not allowed in the Senate). There were some great questions asked of the tour guide such as whether or not the legislative proceedings were captioned.

The highlight of the Deaf Tea event for the Academic Department was the award received by our own Matt Welch for his efforts in supporting the lives of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students here at GBSD and in the community. His recognition is very well deserved and it was great to see both his brother and mother make the trip from North Carolina to attend the ceremony. Also recognized for her achievements at GBSD was senior Courtney Camire, who will be graduating from Portland High School in June. She will be attending a post-secondary school yet to be determined. Courtney is also the MECDHH School Board student representative and has been a great role model for our younger students. Courtney personifies the promising future that our deaf and hard of hearing students can look forward to when they work hard, ask important questions and remain engaged in their education both in and out of school. Much applause goes to Courtney and to all our staff who have supported her over the past several years!

On October 15th, our soccer team traveled to Hartford, CT for a game against the American School for the Deaf which was followed by a tournament in Rome, NY. We appreciate the support of Athletic Director Matt Welch and teacher Lenore Boerner, who accompanied the team. This year’s soccer schedule was not as robust as in years past, however, our students have enjoyed their playing time with other schools in the area. The Rhode Island School for the Deaf made a trip to Mackworth Island and we are glad to have also hosted a local team from Freeport. This February, GBSD will host the ESDAA basketball tournament on Mackworth Island. This will surely prove to be quite an event! Matt Welch, along with our administrative assistants Tammy and Joanna, will be busy putting the details of this event together over the coming months.

Finally, the Academic Department would like to say thank you for the work of Educational Technician Clayton Marr III. Clayton left GBSD on Friday, October 24 to embark on a new career at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Clayton has provided our students with a lot of support and instruction since he arrived here two years ago. He will be dearly missed by everyone. We wish him all the best in his new endeavor and hope that he will remain an active alumnus.

The future for the Academic Dept. looks to be a busy one with the development of a new Teacher and Principal Professional Growth and Evaluation system. Both systems have been mandated by state law for all public schools in Maine. Additionally, we have a state Special Education site review, conducted by the Dept. of Education, coming up in the near future.

Safetycare training took place recently. Our School Social Worker, Jennifer McCann and our Behavior & Transition Strategist, Shana Kelley-Cohen, were both trained to serve as trainers. GBSD hosted this training for three days from Oct. 15th – 17th. Jenn and Shana, as trainers, will allow us more flexibility in scheduling certification trainings for all of our staff in preventative and proactive responses to challenging student behavior.

There is a lot going on in the Academic Dept. this time of year; but, please do take time to occasionally jump into that pile of leaves that haven’t made it into leaf bags yet.

From Our Library

GBSD Library is open this year on T, W, Th from 10:00 to 3:00 on the days GBSD is in session. Leona Anderson continues to be assisted by skilled library volunteers Karyl Sylken and Reta Nappi. Library and information services are available to everyone involved in all MECDHH/GBSD Programs (staff, students, family) as well as staff and students in the Friends School of Portland.

Library services extend far beyond the four walls and limited hours of operations.

Follow this link: to access MECDHH's GBSD Library Catalog from anywhere at any time. To bookmark it, click on the light gray icon just to the right of the link to our catalog. Leona would be happy to meet with anyone about accessing library resources and/or navigating our online catalog. Please contact her for assistance and/or if you have questions or ideas for the library program.

Special thanks to REAL School students for refurbishing our library placeholders over the summer. They sanded, painted designs, created and applied alphabet labels, and shellacked a dozen for in-house use.

GBSD Library Catalog

Public School Outreach

Public School Outreach and Community Programs
Public School Outreach staff has been very busy helping students all over Maine settle into their school programs. So far, we have received 131 requests for support since school opened in September. One of the most important areas PSO consultants address is access. Most of our students use hearing assistive technology (HAT) A very important part of our work is making sure they have maximum auditory (and visual) access to the discussions, comments and questions of teachers and students, to classroom media, to classroom presentations and, yes, even to social conversations. This involves training around proper use of equipment and setting up the environment to provide clear visual access to all the speakers. It also requires that we have knowledge of the student’s language base, background knowledge and lots more. Each visit is a new challenge with new people and a new environment. Knowing it helps the student makes it all worthwhile.

Kids Like Me Update
The Kids Like ME 6th -12th grade overnight program took place October 17-18 with 18 students attending. The group made a quick stop in Waterville on their way to the
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Maine Huts and Trails Poplar Hut to pick up 5 students from central and northern Maine. It was a beautiful 2.5 mile hike past falling leaves and a gorgeous waterfall into the hut. After settling in, students assisted hut staff with the prep and cleanup for dinner. Their evening was filled with team-building activities and open honest discussions. I am sure they will return with many wonderful stories to tell.

As always, the PSO staff is constantly looking for ways to bring students who are Deaf or hard of hearing together. This year we will be launching a pilot program called “Mini Kids Like Me Regional Program”. This program will attempt to bring a shortened regional program to school districts that have several students who are hard of hearing and/or deaf in their schools. We feel strongly that these children should have the opportunity to meet, get to know each other, have a place to share their thoughts and feelings openly and learn self-advocacy skills.

Webinar Update
Our next webinar is scheduled for November 18 at 3PM (title to be determined). It will focus on hearing assistive technology (HAT). During this webinar, Linda Koehler and Donna Cassavant will demonstrate the proper use of HAT equipment. Participants will experience, firsthand, how it sounds to students when there are background noises, hands rubbing on the mics, inappropriate placement of the mics and other obstacles to access. Since this equipment is critical to the students’ access to their education, we are hoping this will help people to more effectively use HAT equipment.

Early Childhood Programs

Early Childhood and Family Services
The ECFS Team recently attended training on Routines-Based Intervention with the entire Part C (0-2) staff at Child Development Services. Our team is participating in the Part C early intervention process throughout the state of Maine. The consultants are covering numerous sites and traveling to as many as six different visits a day. This early intervention model is family-driven and based on each family’s daily routines. ECFS has also been involved in trainings related to various assessments used within the CDS system. This includes learning the approach and processes used by each site in order to integrate their professional style and expertise in a beneficial and collaborative manner.

Parent Infant Toddler Program
The fall session of the parent infant toddler playgroup (P.I.T.) is off to a great start this year. We had four new families come on the first day! We are thankful to the Foundation for providing gas cards that we were able to distribute to new families. This served to encourage them to make the trip to the P.I.T. program again. We are heading into the third week now and the families are enjoying making connections and gathering information about communication development. They enjoy practicing strategies in both ASL and spoken language.

Deaf Mentor Program
The Deaf Mentor Program is on a roll! We had a fabulous weekend training here at MECDHH with three national trainers from the National Deaf Mentor Program.

Seventeen Deaf adults participated and are now certified Deaf Mentors for Maine families. Melinda Meyers and Karen Hopkins have been working hard to develop protocols for this brand new program to determine ways to connect with the current CDS system of early intervention. Deaf Mentors who wish to work with families of children ages birth through age five will need to contract with CDS. Meetings are scheduled to support our new Deaf Mentors with the CDS contract process, the policies and procedures of this program and more training on working with families and young children.

Guide By Your Side Program
MECDHH is the new agency partner for Maine’s Hands & Voices Guide By Your Side Program! This program will be supported by Karen Hopkins and the ECFS team.
Guide by Your Side is a parent to parent support program, where trained parents assist other parents, often after learning their child is deaf or hard of hearing. Hands & Voices committee members are working on finalizing the policies and procedures for this new program. Interviews for parent guides have been conducted and three candidates have been hired. The three candidates provide an excellent geographic representation, with one coming from Southern Maine, one from the Downeast region and one from Aroostook County. Darlene Freeman has been selected as the Parent Guide By Your Side coordinator. She is doing a wonderful job!

Staff and students have been busy implementing the O.W.L. (Opening the World of Learning) Curriculum. We recently finished Unit 1 “Family”, and will be soon begin Unit 2, “Friends”. The O.W.L. is a slower paced curriculum compared to what we have used in the past. The deliberate scaffolding of concepts, ideas and vocabulary is allowing for some fantastic in depth language, play and social experiences. The whole team, from teachers to therapists, is involved in some aspect of the curriculum. The library staff has created some wonderful resource lists for teachers and families connected to our O.W.L. units.

With three IEPs hovering in the near future, we have been busy gathering data and collecting current baselines for children. This has given us the opportunity to put the online portfolio of E-Backpack into place. This is proving to be an opportunity for collaboration via looking at the child from an interdisciplinary perspective. It is our intention that each child, by the end of the first quarter, will have an updated portfolio including: expressive and receptive language (both spoken English and American Sign Language), speech intelligibility to an unfamiliar listener (when appropriate), information regarding attainment of the Maine Early Learning Guidelines, a self-portrait, upper and lower case identification skills, number, color, and shape identification skills, and a pragmatics evaluation (both ASL and spoken English). We believe this comprehensive portfolio is going to give us the best picture of the whole child and his/her growth over time. It will also help us guide our teaching practice and instructional strategies with each individual student.

In the past month alone we:

  • Had visits from four different CDS case managers to observe our program and students
  • Received observation and consults from: Catholic Charities, the New England Deaf Blind Consortium, Early Childhood and Family Services (ECFS), an educational consultant in regards to E-Backpack, and visitors related to the Deaf Mentor training who toured the preschool; and,
  • Successfully completed a few fire drill trainings

Administrative Updates

As an organization, we continue to thrive and grow in many ways. Our programs in Portland, on Mackworth Island, across the state and via our webinar series are running well and have become part of Maine’s educational landscape. This is very exciting! With each interaction and endeavor, we are becoming a stronger and more highly respected resource for parents, families and professionals throughout the state. I truly believe that we can serve as a model for other schools for the Deaf throughout the country as they struggle with the many changes in the field of Deaf Education, technology and the politics of education in general.

I have been working with the Department of Education (specifically, Child Development Services), the director of hearMEnow (hMn) and Karen Hopkins to build collaborative/collegial relationships and professional opportunities among and between hearMEnow (hMn) service providers and our ECFS Consultants. Given the size of our state, the many and diverse needs of Deaf and hard of hearing children and the scarcity of services, this type of collaboration makes sense. An initial team building meeting has been scheduled for hMn service providers and our ECFS consultants. Karen, Pam Dawson of hMn and I will begin the meeting and a facilitator (not connected to either MECDHH/GBSD or hMn) will continue after we have opened the meeting. Roy Fowler, the part C Technical Advisor for CDS will also be in attendance. This is a valuable opportunity to create a more seamless, less confusing journey through the service system for all parents.

As a direct result of the efforts of Jill Adams, Executive Director of MADSEC (Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities), we now have over 50 responses to the survey regarding regionalization models for serving Deaf and hard of hearing children throughout our state. This will be extremely helpful in our work with the Department of Education and representatives of MADSEC to determine the most efficient and practical model of providing regionally based services. John, Karen, Angie and I will be meeting with this group on November 6 to analyze the results of the survey and determine next steps. We’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to the support of Education Commissioner Rier and the hard work of Traci Drake, we now have a plan to address the challenges that were created when the bridge on the causeway was posted with a weight limit. Deliveries are back on track and the Department of Transportation has a plan for making the necessary repairs to the bridge. When the bridge is being worked on, it will be down to one lane of traffic.
This will likely not occur until after the first of the year. We will keep you abreast of the work schedule set by the D.O.T.

The Extended Leadership Team is working on the development of new and more meaningful staff evaluation tools. You probably know that the legislature passed new laws related to teacher evaluation. These laws include many requirements related to both the process of developing these evaluation documents and the content of the evaluation itself. We will be seeking your input as we move along in the development of these tools. Look for more information in the near future!

I am pleased to announce that we have hired someone to fill the vacancy in our kitchen. Diane (Della) Parker began overseeing our school nutrition program and working with the staff and students of REAL School to provide delicious, well-balanced meals for our students and staff. Della is a familiar face to many of us as she worked with the REAL School food preparation program during the 2011/2012 school year. Della began work during the week of October 20-24.

I had a wonderful visit to a few of our on island classrooms. In a job that is consumed by meetings, planning and paperwork, it was an incredibly refreshing and happy change for me! It reminded me of two things: what a highly skilled, dedicated and caring staff we have and why we all come to work every day with commitment and enthusiasm, our students! They are worth every minute of our time and every ounce of our energy! Thank you for all you do to make this such a high quality organization!