Holiday fun with our Francis Parker friends

We had a special visit today from our friends at Francis Parker High School! They joined us for fun holiday crafts, and helped us make our wish lists.

We're always learning

Ever wonder what we're doing when we have those early dismissal days each month? Well, our knowledge-hungry team is learning how we can be even better! Each year, we set a program goal related to a research-based or promising practice in the autism field. Last year, we spent a good chunk of the year learning about elements of Structured Teaching (from TEACCH - see for more info). This year, one of our program goals this year is for our team to learn more about ways to incorporate fundamentals of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) in the classroom. This semester, we've focused on Task Analysis and Discrete Trial Training.

Discrete Trial Training is a way of presenting short, quick tasks, within a clear (1) direction - (2) response - (3) correction / praise framework. It is most commonly used to teach basic rote skills like matching, or identification of fundamentals like colors, shapes, numbers, letters, sight words, etc. Often, this is what is most associated with ABA - but it's not ALL of ABA.

Task Analysis is a way to break down a complex task into smaller, more manageable pieces. We practiced and laughed (a lot), as we taught each other to put on makeup, build ice cream sundaes, and draw pirates (the pics above show some of the fun!). One of the things we reiterated was the importance of being specific when writing the TA, and consistent when using it - that way, everyone is teaching the student to do the task the same way ... which increases the likelihood of learning! We use these for more complex task sequences - like brushing teeth, washing hands, tying shoes, making a purchase, taking out the trash, etc.

For more information on Task Analysis and Discrete Trial, check out these info sheets from the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders (NPDC):

Task Analysis

Discrete Trial Training

Art + Sensory + Social / Emotional Learning = Clubs Time!

Once a week, PACTT students have a chance to choose their own adventure. Our Clubs block allows students to choose from art, music, dance, and science. Students are sorted according to their choice, and benefit from spending time with students and staff from other classrooms. Clubs time also gives our therapists and paraprofessionals opportunities to lead activities. 

Here, our Occupational Therapist and Speech Therapist join Art Club for an activity that combined an art project (fine motor and sensory), language (emotion words, body parts), and social / emotional learning (labeling emotions). The students? They just thought they were having fun. And isn't that the best kind of learning?

Special thanks to Special Kids Foundation!

(Above, left) PACTT Transition Specialist Lauren Mucha accepts the Special Kids Grant at the award ceremony last week.

(Above, right) Special Kids Board Vice President Lauren Litchfield, with Lauren Mucha. 

We send a special THANK YOU to the Special Kids foundation for their generous grant to our children's programs. Because of their generosity, we will be able to implement Video Modeling training for our teaching team AND purchase new equipment and apps for our classrooms.

Transition Specialist Lauren Mucha (pictured here) represented PACTT at the grant ceremony last week. We can't wait to get things rolling! 

More about Video Modeling, from Lauren's acceptance speech: 

Many of our students need intensive supports to carry out activities like personal hygiene, food preparation, social skills, and job tasks. To learn a skill like brushing  teeth, a student might need a teacher to stand next to them and to point to the faucet so that the student turns on the water and wets the toothbrush, to point to the toothpaste to remind the student to put it on the brush, and so on for each step of the task of brushing teeth. They might need a teacher to prompt them this way every time, and some students may take a long time to get to a point where they can perform the skill without any reminders.

This is where video modeling comes in. Instead of a teacher prompting a student through every step of a task, the student can watch a video on an iPad and follow along to perform the steps. The video can be used across settings, so the student who learns to brush his teeth using the video at school can do it at home too. Video modeling can be used to teach skills students need to take care of themselves, to interact and communicate with others, and to work in meaningful employment in the community. Research shows that this is an effective strategy for teaching these types of skills.

To learn more about the use of video modeling for students with autism, visit:

September Roundup

Life skills, current events, community exploration, and just plain fun: here's a roundup of our September highlights! 

Total eclipse of the ...

Since most of our students have a hard time keeping glasses on, we skipped the eclipse-viewing portion of the day in favor of healthy eyes. BUT, we did *learn* about the eclipse, watched it live (on the internet) ... AND we got to try on the silly glasses! 

Welcome to a new year!

Even principals need to recharge! 

Even principals need to recharge! 

This may begin my 19th year at PACTT, and my 12th as principal (craziness, I know!), but it doesn't matter - I still get butterflies at back-to-school time! There's something powerful about hitting the reset button, looking ahead toward new adventures, and welcoming the enthusiasm and ideas that come with bringing new crew members aboard. That new-crayon smell (aah!) ... Freshly decorated bulletin boards (and doors!) ... Team members re-energized from their well-deserved break, or excitedly anticipating their first day with students ... All of those things combine for a wonderful fresh slate.

This year, we are PIRATES! As you know (or will quickly learn!), I'm always looking for ways to help us improve - as a school, as a team, and as professionals. This summer, I devoured a book called "Lead like a PIRATE" by Shelley Burgess & Beth Houf, and I am excited to share its themes with our PACTT school crew. (Don't worry - we won't be looting or pillaging!) PIRATE is an acronym, that identifies six tenets of strong teachers and leaders - Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. Since we all play a part in leading our school to success, this year we are ALL pirates! And since you - our incredible parents - are your children's first, strongest, and longest-running teachers, you are welcome to join us on the adventure. 

Welcome Aboard to our 2017-18 school year!

- Paula

Spiffing things up for the new year

Our teaching teams have been busy this week, getting the building ready for the start of the new school year - including an impromptu door-decorating bonanza. Here's a sneak peek!

And another year comes to a close

Despite the looming clouds, our annual end-of-school BBQ celebration went off without a hitch! The rain held off just long enough for us to wave goodbye to the last of our buses, before we all headed off for our short August break.

Thank you to everyone who helped us celebrate, whether in person or in spirit! We are grateful to all those who support, cheer on, and advocate for our students -- and teams. We couldn't do it without you! 

Here are a few pics from today's fun:

From the Principal's Desk ...

I looked at the calendar today, and realized that we are somehow two weeks away from the end of summer school. Seriously, how did that happen? This time of year can be a frenetic balance between putting the final touches on one school year and the preparations for another, between ends and beginnings. It's the time when we all (hopefully) take some time to reflect on what we've accomplished, and to think about all the things we have yet to tackle. It's also the time when we are most likely to say goodbye to some of our familiar faces, and get ready to welcome new teammates (and students!) to the PACTT family.

This school year marks the end of my 11th school year as principal here at PACTT. With each year, our program gets stronger, and our team questions and dreams and pushes our program even further - to find new and better ways to support our students and families. It's a journey that I am grateful to travel alongside a dedicated and talented team of teachers, paraprofessionals, and therapists - not to mention our amazing residential teams who support our group home students 24/7.

Last but not least, none of us would be here if it weren't for the remarkable students we have the honor of working with. Thank you for putting your trust in us, and allowing us the privilege of teaching and learning with your children each day.