Riversink Elementary to host autism initiative

From left are Sarah Moore and Madeline Storey of Riversink Elementary School. Riversink Elementary is participating in a yearlong project to benefit K-5 students with autism.

With stiff competition across more than 15 counties, Riversink Elementary has been selected to participate in a yearlong project with Partnership for Effective Programs for Students with Autism (PEPSA) and the Statewide Centers for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).

PEPSA is funded through Florida Department of Education K-12 Public Schools, Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, and was introduced to educators and schools of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 1999. The local CARD office operates within The Autism Institute at Florida State University’s College of Medicine.

Charged by Riversink Elementary Principal Catherine Cutchen, Riversink Elementary has sought to build an exemplary program for students with autism in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Cutchen worked closely with the classroom teacher, Madeline Storey, to build an environment tailored to each student who calls Riversink home. The classroom includes a sensory space with fidgets and gross motor activities, flexible seating options, and work cubbies to minimize visual distractions. The classroom utilizes quality evidence-based practices (EBP) such as: token economies, behavior-specific praise, visual schedules, social narratives, and modeling. The class also includes a dedicated staff of paraprofessionals, including Sarah Moore. Moore is currently working to become a full-time teacher in the 2023-24 school year.

The objective of the partnership is to develop and implement effective practices with the guidance and knowledge of CARD Autism Consultant Allison Leatzow.

Leatzow will assist Storey in identifying areas of need, providing EBP that address those needs, review data collection, and provide support along the way. Leatzow will also train Moore in skills for pre-service teachers. Moore will share information throughout the support staff network and help with managing fidelity.

Both Storey and Moore will attend the annual CARD conference in January 2023. The conference will cover topics including: technology, emotional intelligence, and employment outcomes. In May, at the conclusion of the one-year partnership, Storey and Moore will complete a presentation outlining the findings. Opportunities for Action Research within education is important because, as Geoffrey E. Mills explains, in “Action Research: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher,” the true beneficiaries are the students in the classroom.

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