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The News Gallery

February 2008

USER-FRIENDLY - The Assistive Technology Center Seeks the Latest Devices to Help Students with Special Needs

News Gallery - February 2008 Editor: Robert Herman
Public Information Officer
(559) 733-6606

Contributors to this issue:
Christine Chapman, Marlene Moreno, Priscilla Gomez, Shelly DiCenzo, Lorena White, Kevin Matteson, Gary Cordell, Jesse Ruiz, Mike Aulds, Rob Chism, Linda Hess, Linda McKean, Marsha Ingrao, Tom Byars, Kari Wilson and Paula Terrill.

The News Gallery is published monthly with the exception of double issues printed for July/August and December/January. If you would like to receive the News Gallery, please contact Christine Chapman at chrisc@tcoe.org or (559) 733-6172 and provide your name and address.

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Gains in Technology Found in Assistive Devices
Assistive Technology Center Brings Technology to Aid Students with Special Needs

"Sweet!" says Gatlin Rauen. With all the enthusiasm teenage boys typically show for electronics, the eighth grader pours over the functions of a small PC-like device in the conference room at his school. Special Services' Technology Specialists Jesse Ruiz and Rob Chism are on hand to review the functions of the computer with Gatlin. "What does this do?" Gatlin asks. Almost before Mr. Ruiz or Mr. Chism can answer, he has figured it out.

Assistive Technology The device, called Dana, was ordered for the special needs student to aid with his class work at La Joya Middle School in Visalia. It contains a word processor, a spelling aid, internet and e-mail features, mathematics calculators and other amenities. Mr. Ruiz explains that the Dana was chosen because Gatlin was comfortable with its weight and ease of use. "He felt that a laptop was too heavy and too complicated," says Mr. Ruiz. While the Dana is easy to use, it also is powerful enough to serve Gatlin for many years. "With upgrades that will become available, he will be able to take this with him when he moves to El Diamante High School," says Rob Chism.

Assistive Technology Mr. Ruiz and Mr. Chism, along with Mike Aulds, are part of the Special Services Division's Assistive Technology Center, located in Visalia. The three technology specialists work with teachers, parents and students like Gatlin Rauen to select equipment that meets their needs in the classroom. Students with disabilities such as deafness, blindness or orthopedic handicaps, as well as students who are severely handicapped can be referred to the Technology Center by members of the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team. School personnel can also refer students who may need to use technology for written work or in place of oral communication.

All three men have become "certified assistive technologists," which enables them to perform assessments of students prior to recommending any devices. Rob Chism was the most recent member of the team to receive his credential. Despite his own disability with Muscular Dystrophy, Mr. Chism completed the California State University, Dominguez Hills program. "Rob is an amazing asset," says Jesse Ruiz. "He shares his own experiences and shows students how they can persevere in ways that we could never do."

Assistive Technology "Just as we have enjoyed advances in our own personal technology, so too have students utilizing assistive technology," says Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Dr. Marilyn Rankin. "Improvements are continually made to devices that aid hearing, sight, mobility and written and spoken language." Advances in personal technology often find applications in assistive technology. "The development of PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) devices has translated into products for our students," says Jesse Ruiz. The popular hand-held computer has become the basis for many products which aid in speech, writing and calculation for students in Tulare County.

One of the key sources for assistive technology is the Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference sponsored by California State University, Northridge's Center on Disabilities. The conference, held annually in Los Angeles, is the largest of its kind in the world. Mr. Ruiz and Mr. Aulds attend to learn from teachers across the nation about the programs they have developed and to talk to software and product development companies. "We are continually working with the manufacturers of assistive technology products," says Jesse Ruiz. "We like to know what they have in development, just as we like to give them feedback on ways to improve the products they already have on the market. Our goal is to find the most reliable, best supported and most cost-effective tools for our students." Once a new product is selected, the Assistive Technology Center typically holds a training session for parents, students and teachers to discuss with the manufacturer the benefits of a new device.

Assistive technology isn't limited to computer-based devices. Pencil grips, calculators, specialized spoons and switches which can be controlled with the blink of an eye, a breath or a student's feet are all forms of assistive technology. In considering any type of assistive technology, the rule of thumb is to consider the simplest solutions first. Most solutions can be planned and implemented within the student's classroom. When there is a need for higher technology solutions, an evaluation at the center is usually scheduled.

"Students with special needs may have limited control over many aspects of the learning process," says County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "But if by personal encouragement and through the aid of technology, we can give them more control, then we have helped create a motivation to succeed despite the obstacles."

Photos above:
~ Low tech meets high tech — electronics such as the "Say It Sam" device, which "speaks" messages input via a small electronic keyboard, contrasts with the simple reach extension tool displayed in the Assistive Technology Center's evaluation room.
~ The wristwatch also "speaks" simple, pre-recorded messages.
~ One of the major responsibilities of the staff at the Assistive Technology Center is to provide ongoing service to Tulare County schools utilizing equipment procured for special needs students. Technology Specialist Mike Aulds trouble-shoots a keyboard at Roosevelt Elementary in Dinuba.

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Parent Liaison Team Meets Growing Need
Parents of Children with Special Needs Gain Greater Assistance

Parents of children with disabilities will now have increased assistance available through the Special Services Division. New Parent Liaison Norma Erwin will oversee the mission of supporting parents who have questions or concerns about the special education process. Ms. Erwin will also be responsible for overseeing the operation of the Tulare County Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, the annual Child Find program, and several other projects. New Parent-School Liaisons Renae Bendix and Brenda Beatty will provide vital manpower to ensure everyone's needs are being met.

Parent Liaisons For the past 20 years, Parent Liaison Linda Hess has worked with families who had questions or concerns about special education. Additionally, Parent-School Liaison Stephanie Caldera has worked with parents who have children in the Bright Start Parent/Infant Program. With so many students and parents, increasingly complex laws and regulations, and a trend towards advocacy in the special education process, additional personnel were needed to cover all the responsibilities.

Norma Erwin has been serving children ages 0 to 18 in a variety of different settings for over 20 years. Most recently, she directed the STARS After School Program in Lindsay. The parent of a 31-year old daughter who has severe mental retardation, cerebral palsy and is non-verbal, Norma says her goal as Parent Liaison is "to seek to understand the point of view of each parent that calls for help and to empower them to become proactive members of their child's special education team."

Renae Bendix and her family moved to the Visalia area four years ago. One of Renae's two sons has autism and attends a TCOE-operated special day class. Renae remembers vividly the emotions and quest for information that began with her son's diagnosis at age 3. She looks forward to working with families whose children have autism or other special needs.

Brenda Beatty served on the very first Tulare County Community Advisory Committee for Special Education nearly 40 years ago! She was also a special education parent trainer for TCOE. Her adult daughter, Kim, has mild cerebral palsy and mental retardation. Kim attends the Creative Center adult program. Brenda is looking forward to meeting and assisting families.

Dr. Marilyn Rankin, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services, said she is very pleased to have such competent and experienced parents on board to assist other parents in navigating the special education system and learning to advocate effectively for their children.

Photo above:
~ Linda Hess (left) leads a meeting of the new Special Services Parent Liaison team, including (l-r) Renae Bendix, Brenda Beatty, Stephanie Caldera and Norma Erwin. Mrs. Hess, who served as the Tulare County Office of Education's (TCOE) parent liaison for nearly 20 years, has retired. Together, the team is available to assist parents of nearly 8,000 Tulare County students in TCOE-operated classes for the severely handicapped, district-operated programs for special education students, and the Bright Start Parent/Infant Program.

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Dinuba Students Apply Skills to New Home
TCOE Support of Cisco Network Academies Brings Students Real World Experience

Cisco Network Academies The future owners of the modest house under construction in Dinuba will soon utilize amenities other homes costing twice as much rarely include. It's not professional-grade, stainless steel appliances or the latest steam shower, but technology. Nearly every room — including the garage — has been wired or cabled for broadband internet, television and phone thanks to students in John Celum's Cisco Network Academy program at Dinuba High School.

Cisco Network Academies Mr. Celum's partnership with Dinuba High School's building trades program — which builds affordable homes in partnership with the City of Dinuba — gives students unique work experience outside the computer lab. TCOE supports Mr. Celum's class and the four other academies in Tulare and Kings counties with ongoing training in the curriculum developed by network equipment maker, Cisco Systems.

Cisco Network Academies Gary Cordell, network instructor/technology specialist for TCOE's Educational Resource Services leads the Cisco instructors through annual trainings and passes along program updates on a regular basis. Recently, Network Service Manager Kevin Matteson with TCOE's Information Systems Department taught a class for Cisco instructors on wireless networking. "Kevin is also great about keeping us abreast of current trends in the industry," says Mr. Cordell.

"For students seeking careers in information systems, the Cisco Academies remain a great foundation for the workplace or for further training at the college level," says County Superintendent Jim Vidak.

Photos above:
~ Business teacher John Celum leads the Cisco Network Academy class at Dinuba High School.
~ Daniel Gutierrez and Uver Pena (on ladder) work to install broadband cabling throughout the new house, which features a central wiring hub much like a commercial building. The hub makes access easy for configuration and device changes.
~ The City of Dinuba and the school district partner in the home's construction.

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On People in Service and Support

Sharon Btown-Welty Last month, nearly 40 teachers and administrators attended an informational reception at the Tulare County Office of Education to hear Dr. Sharon Brown-Welty speak about Fresno State's new doctoral program in education. Dr. Brown-Welty explained that the program was created to accommodate the schedules of working educators with classes held in late afternoon, evenings and weekends. The university is now accepting applications through March 7, 2008 for the Fall 2008 program cohort. For more information, visit

Elane Geller Holocaust survivor Elane Geller (pictured with a student at El Diamante High School) will speak to students attending high school in Visalia and Porterville Unified School Districts later this month. She will also make a public presentation March 4, 2008 (6:00 - 7:30 p.m.) at Granite Hills High School. Born in Poland, Ms. Geller survived life in a Nazi concentration camp, imprisoned for nearly five years as a young girl.

Janet Kelly and Joy Soares Kings River Elementary School teachers Janet Kelly and Joy Soares were recently selected teachers of the year by the California Council for the Social Studies (CCSS). CCSS is a non-profit professional organization serving both public and private school educators, with support for social studies education through service, advocacy and leadership development. Ms. Kelly won in the elementary school category, while Ms. Soares was honored among middle school teachers. Both teachers are active participants in Tulare County History Day and past winners of the Educators of the Year Award hosted jointly by the Tulare County Office of Education and the Central California Chinese Cultural Center.

Reconnecting Youth The U.S. Department of Education invited the Reconnecting Youth (RY) program to share its successes at the annual Grants to Reduce Alcohol Abuse (GRAA) Technical Assistance Conference in Albuquerque last month. (l-r) Freddie Arrellano, Cheng Saephan, Jovana Alonso and Les James (pictured with RY teacher Kari Wilson) shared with the large audience their lives prior to the Reconnecting Youth program, which included gang involvement, substance use, poor academic performance and expulsion experiences. The students, who are now attending college, closer to their families and involved in their communities, received two standing ovations at the conference.

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Gallery Notes

The Theatre Company is holding auditions for a fully mounted, summer production of the musical Les Misérables, March 3 and 4, beginning at 4:00 p.m at 7000 Doe Avenue in Visalia. Tulare County students entering 7th grade to those leaving 12th grade may audition. A pre-audition workshop will be held 7:00 p.m., February 7 at the Doe Avenue Complex, Sycamore Room for students to learn about the show and gain audition tips. Students may obtain a copy of the audition registration form at
www.tcoe.org/theatreco, or by calling (559) 651-1482. Seven performances of the musical will be held at Visalia's L.J. Williams Theater July 18 - 26, 2008.

The fourth cohort of the Collaborative Leadership Institute (CLI) will hold a graduation ceremony at College of the Sequoias Friday, February 22, 2008. Since the program's creation in 2001, CLI has worked to identify and train over 60 of Tulare County's emerging leaders in children's services. This cohort includes Lisa Boss, family wellness coordinator, from Tulare County Office of Education's Child Care Educational Program.

The Tulare County Office of Education, in partnership with the Economic Development Corporation of Tulare County, is offering its annual scholarship for young entrepreneurs. The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Entrepreneur Award is open to Tulare County high school students who excel in math and science and demonstrate a viable business idea. TUCOEMAS Federal Credit Union is sponsoring the scholarship award of $1,000. Applications are due February 29, 2008, and available at www.tcoe.org/STEMScholarship. For more information, contact Randy Wallace at (559) 733-6101.

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Jim Vidak, County Superintendent of Schools
Tulare County Office of Education
All mail to: P.O. Box 5091, Visalia, CA 93278-5091
Physical address: 6200 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia, CA 93277
phone: (559) 733-6300 • fax: (559) 627-5219

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