When Eric Laughed

When Eric Laughed

The Shadow Project’s Alejandra Gurrola will never forget the first time she heard Eric laugh. “It was a sound of pure joy,” she said.

Eric, a Portland fourth grader in special education, was reading years below his classmates. On the playground, he got picked on for reading “baby books.” Eric often became discouraged, said his mother, Yim. “Sometimes, he didn’t want to try.”

Then Alejandra began coaching Eric and other Shadow Project students who struggle to access books the way most kids do. Using an audio and visual library for children with learning challenges, she helped Eric set reading goals and celebrate his progress. He began reading with his ears and eyes, donning headphones and following highlighted text on a screen.

One day, Eric burst out laughing while talking to his friends about a funny book they were all reading, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “Another world had opened up for him,” Alejandra said. Best of all, Eric’s reading catapulted two grade levels last school year!

“Eric is different this year,” says Yim. “Now, he’s reading. He’s reading much better because of the audio books. He’s read a lot of books that he loves, some of them over and over. I am so proud of him.”

Every year, two-thirds of Oregon children with disabilities miss the critical benchmark of third grade reading proficiency that predicts high school graduation. A 2015 report estimated that with the right supports, 85 to 90% of students receiving special education services could meet regular diploma requirements. In Oregon, only 37% do so now.

The Shadow Project is a Portland nonprofit that teams with teachers in 39 local schools to make classrooms a place where children who learn differently—those with dyslexia, autism, and ADHD among others—can thrive. By equipping classrooms with special tools tailored to diverse learning needs, The Shadow Project has fostered academic and social success for more than 11,000 students who are typically one- to three years below grade level.

Eric was one of his school’s top audio books readers last year. He read 14 hours on audio books—464 pages in 17 days—over the summer. And this school year, he reads at least 30 minutes at home every night.

“I want Eric to have an education,” says Yim. “That’s my hope. Thank goodness for these programs that help Eric so much.”

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Movement Zone for Rosa Parks

Movement Zone for Rosa Parks

Fourth grader Day’Anah is stressed over a new teacher and sometimes doesn’t want to come to school. When she does come to class, “sometimes I get bored and need movement to wake up.”

Day’Anah’s recognition that physical activity plays a role in academics has fueled her interest in the learning center’s new movement zone, developed by The Shadow Project.

“Many of my students like Day’Anah are starting to gauge what they are feeling, and they know what they need to do to calm down and focus, so they can get back to class,” says Rosa Parks Learning Center Teacher Kim Giarelli, M.S.

Kids need regular movement to be successful in school. In addition to the health benefits of physical activity, movement breaks can help students regulate their behavior, and they are then better able to engage in class and retain information.

In Ms. Giarelli’s room, students in grades four and five now have access to a stationary bike, a fit board, a trampoline, and a crash pad for timed breaks.

“The bike is my favorite,” says Day’Anah. “It helps me to concentrate at school.”

In another learning center classroom, students in kindergarten through third grade utilize a weighted lap pad, balance beam, trampoline, crash pad, tunnel for crawling, and squishy balls for shooting indoor hoops.

“The movement breaks are helping,” says Ms. Giarelli. “I see the kids really exerting themselves to improve, not just going through the motions. We are already seeing the benefits.”

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Perseverance Leads to Middle School Readiness

Perseverance Leads to Middle School Readiness

Fifth grade graduate Eric, who has dyslexia, used to “hate reading” because the words moved around on the page. But this fall, Eric heads to Jackson Middle School as an avid book lover who is reading at grade level.

During silent reading, while the rest of the class quietly read to themselves, Eric would slip a piece of paper into his book to draw squiggles.

“It’s hard to see the words, and I mixed up my B’s and D’s,” said Eric. “I didn’t like reading, so I decided to do something else in class.”

But after Eric was assigned to the learning center with LaShell Holton in third grade at Portland Public Schools’ Markham Elementary, he learned perseverance as he worked toward small reading goals.

“Eric was so frustrated when I first met him because he was behind his peers,” said LaShell. “The Shadow Project gave Eric the daily opportunity to be acknowledged for his effort, and he really looked forward to the opportunities to shine, which made a difference in his learning and behavior.

“This year, Eric had a major turnaround.”

Eric constantly raises his hand to read aloud, and is devouring books at home. Said Eric, “When my mom says go to bed, I say “okay,” but when she’s gone, five minutes later, I turn my light back on and start reading again!”

Jackson leopards, here comes Eric!

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Higher Standards for Students in Special Education

Higher Standards for Students in Special Education

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on students with disabilities raises the bar for Oregon children, according to Shadow Project Founder and Executive Director Christy Scattarella, M.A., in a Portland Tribune op-ed.

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that educational programs for children with disabilities must be “appropriately ambitious.” This decision wisely overturned a lower-court standard of “merely more than de minimis” (Latin for “too minor to merit consideration”).

What does this mean for Oregon’s almost 7,000 students with disabilities?

“Our system does not prepare diverse learners for success,” said Scattarella. “One-fourth of our capable children with dyslexia, ADHD, or autism are chronically absent which leads to low reading performance, discipline issues, and drop out. Students with disabilities have among the state’s lowest on-time graduation rates.”

Christy said struggling readers need solid tools with effective strategies for using them, and that school climates must be elevated to embrace diverse learners.

“Children should not be embarrassed to squeeze a fidget or don headphones to help them stay calm and focus while reading,” she said. “I’ve seen what ambitious standards can do for determined kids, and raising expectations will show Oregon means business in helping our children soar to new heights.”

Read Christy’s Portland Tribune op-ed at: http://portlandtribune.com/pt/10-opinion/353269-232405-my-view-supreme-court-ruling-on-students-with-disabilities-raises-bar-for-oregon#disqus_thread

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No Summer Slide for Shadow Kids

No Summer Slide for Shadow Kids

After struggling students at Woodmere Elementary increased reading proficiency by as much as 1.7 grade levels last school year, The Shadow Project was asked to pilot a Summer Reading Program, using an audio library that makes books come alive for children with learning challenges.

The Shadow Project’s reading program combines an audio library specially designed for children with print and related disabilities, with one-on-one and small group reading support. Children made strong gains in reading proficiency, set and met reading goals, and began reading at home. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Beth Brod, M.S., Woodmere special education teacher.

Shadow’s Summer Reading Challenge, hosted by the SUN Schools program at Woodmere, is intended to offset the “summer slide,” when children can lose as much as 25% of their reading skills. Eric, who will be in fourth grade next year, signed up for the challenge, even though he “doesn’t like reading much” because it is a lot of work. Eric didn’t read at all last summer.

However, he enjoys the audiobooks and support provided by The Shadow Project and, because he likes chocolate, selected Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from amongst the 80,000 titles available.

“I like to listen to the story and, with headphones, no one can distract you,” said Eric.

Goal Setting in the Classroom

Woodmere students who signed up for the challenge set a reading goal—Eric’s is to read 30 minutes a day, six times a week either at school or home—and then download books to read from a laptop, iPad, or phone. Each student’s progress is monitored daily.

“Our students with disabilities are seeing themselves as readers,” said Katherine Polizos, Woodmere principal. “I see them perform at higher rates, and take part in extra reading activities. They’re so excited when they meet their goal. They feel like they belong in the school community.”

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