Special Education Success Stories

Allie Schmidt, Denver Elementary Special Education & Amie Smith, CRAEA Consultant for Mathematics
Allie Schmidt, Denver Elementary Special Education & Amie Smith, CRAEA Consultant for Mathematics
Pamela Seehase, Tripoli Curriculum Coordinator, Tracy Anderson, Tripoli High School Special Education & Amie Smith, CRAEA Consultant for Mathematics
Pamela Seehase, Tripoli Curriculum Coordinator, Tracy Anderson, Tripoli High School Special Education & Amie Smith, CRAEA Consultant for Mathematics
Sherri Lines, Special Education Teacher at Nashua-Plainfield Junior/Senior High School & Amie Smith, CRAEA Consultant for Mathematics
Sherri Lines, Special Education Teacher at Nashua-Plainfield Junior/Senior High School & Amie Smith, CRAEA Consultant for Mathematics

Central Rivers AEA math consultants partner with Denver, Nashua-Plainfield & Tripoli Community School Districts to secure incredible results for students with SOAR

Denver, Nashua-Plainfield and Tripoli Community School Districts recently shared some exciting data that demonstrates the incredible impact of their collaboration with Central Rivers AEA math consultants who have been leading the implementation of SOAR into their math curriculum. What is SOAR? This research-based math intervention program guides students through essential math content with clear and systematic instruction.

Denver Community Schools

Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in Denver Community Schools showed outstanding performance on the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISAP). One student increased their score by 63 points, while another improved by 22 points. The student with the 63-point increase made progress equivalent to over two, almost three years! 

Allie Schmidt, a special education teacher for Denver Elementary, said, “SOAR has helped me explain certain math curriculums that I wasn’t confident in explaining before. My students now understand math processes and can verbalize their reasoning, which they couldn’t do before.”

Tripoli Community School District

In Tripoli, an elementary teacher has been using the SOAR program with her intervention groups for the past two years. This year’s results mirrored last year’s successes – nearly three-quarters are already prepared for the next grade with those considered “at-risk” continuing to gain ground. This data, gathered from the spring 2024 aMath assessments from FastBridge, underscores the long-term benefits of consistent and targeted intervention.

Pamela Seehase, Curriculum Coordinator at Tripoli CSD, said “We access vital, high-quality training and materials through our local AEA. We have ongoing monthly AEA support, and all our teachers greatly appreciate it!”

Tracy Anderson, a special education teacher at Tripoli High School, added “I am very pleased with the growth in math scores through SOAR implementation. It’s important to consistently use high-quality materials and resources!”

Nashua-Plainfield Junior/Senior High

At Nashua-Plainfield, around 20 students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) received extra help in math using SOAR and Specially-Designed Instruction (SDI). Nearly 80% of these students showed growth or proficiency on their 2024 ISASP math tests, with students making more than a year’s worth of progress, and some advancing by two or three years. The school has been using SOAR math materials for three years, and several students have completed all the SOAR math levels.

Sherri Lines, a special education teacher at Nashua-Plainfield CSD, said “My partnership with CRAEA has provided a SOAR curriculum for math intervention. The 20-minute lessons offer explicit instruction and have boosted my students’ confidence in their math skills. It’s been great!”

These results and stories of student success in the classroom are a testament to the power of collaboration and the positive outcomes that come from dedicated teamwork. Together, we are making a difference in the educational journeys of all our students!

Meet Olivia: CRAEA’s River Hills Graduate

Meet Olivia, a young adult with a passion for serving others. Olivia has received special education support from the AEA since she was a child. Today, she’s thriving in her customer service role with Hy-Vee in the Cedar Valley and receives rave reviews from co-workers and customers alike. Olivia proves that with the right environment and encouragement, every individual can forge a path to success, no matter the circumstances.

Erica & Kara: A Partnership in Learning

Hear how Shirley, a Central Rivers AEA Speech Language Pathologist helped connect two students with special needs. Erica assisted Shirley and mentored preschooler Kara in an effort to help her open up and learn to communicate.

Group photo of student Kacen with his success team at BGM School District

April is Autism Acceptance Month! Meet Kacen – a Student With Autism who is Thriving Thanks to a Partnership Between His School and Central Rivers AEA

April is Autism Acceptance Month! Why acceptance vs. awareness? Acceptance is about moving beyond the idea of awareness – you want acceptance and support, not isolation. Like everyone, those with autism want acceptance for both their strengths and weaknesses.

Kacen DeWitte started at Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom (BGM) as a kindergartener. He came in with a behavior, reading and communication goal per an Individualized Education Program (IEP). His behaviors significantly impacted his learning in the general education setting as he had difficulty sustaining attention, transitioning and complying with adult directions. Kacen was often running out of the classroom and his physical behavior was a safety concern.

The IEP team, along with Central Rivers Area Education Agency (CRAEA) Special Education Consultant, Jennifer Cline, agreed that for Kacen’s safety, the special education setting was the best place for his learning to grow. His parents were very supportive and wanted what was best for Kacen throughout the entire process. “We worked together as a team to put the right supports in place in order to help him be successful,” said BGM Elementary special education teacher, Regan Gritsch. “As the right supports were put into place, Kacen became more able to participate in the general education setting independently. Midway through his third-grade year, the IEP team agreed Kacen no longer needed this extra support.”

“BGM Elementary School principal, Mary Sherwood, has created an environment of acceptance and support for all students,” said Cline. “This can be seen through Kacen’s team being committed to his success since day one. Regan took it upon herself to learn and find ways to support Kacen and his family navigate his challenges in both education and home settings. She has educated his teachers year-to-year on how to support him and taught Kacen skills that are allowing for his increased independence.”

Kacen participates fully in the general education setting now as a fourth-grade student. He does not have paraprofessional support for behavior and is continuing to need less behavioral instruction and support. One of the most effective strategies that has worked for Kacen is using a number of visuals throughout his day. “These included visual schedules and boundary lines taped on the floor within his work area,” said Gritsch. “Truly understanding Kacen and his needs and meeting him where he was at helped pave the way for our successful strategies.”

Gritsch says the partnership between CRAEA, specifically with Jennifer Cline and BGM’s IEP team, made all of the difference. “I have learned so much through working with Jennifer. Taking the autism class she taught provided coaching for us that helped implement the right supports for Kacen.”

Cline’s expertise and help within this area was a huge asset to the IEP team and the success of Kacen. “She was integral in helping brainstorm, teach and implement the strategies and approaches that were put in place for Kacen,” said Gritsch. “I was lucky enough that she was my AEA representative, as well as the teacher of the autism class. I got to work with her weekly and knew I could always reach out to her, whenever I needed support.”

Gritsch explains how Kacen’s parents were also a huge part of his success because they have always had open communication with the BGM team and were willing to put the correct supports in place at both school and home, which has made all of the difference. “Kacen’s general education teachers from kindergarten through fourth grade have also been integral pieces of his success because they have included Kacen at each step and implemented what worked best for him.”

“As the elementary principal, sharing success stories like Kacen’s is what helps us realize why we are in education,” said Sherwood. “It was truly a team effort of all the experts involved – Jennifer Cline, Regan Gritsch, his classroom teachers, his paras who implemented and followed any plans/accommodations we wanted to try, his parents who know him best, and, of course, Kacen!” The IEP team knew it would take time and patience, but they all worked together to help meet Kacen’s needs and help him become successful. “The staff at BGM embrace Kacen’s strengths and he is thriving,” said Cline. “His story is about an incredible boy that wouldn’t be where he is without the full support and understanding of all the adults and his peers he encounters daily. He’s done the hard work, others have just paved the way so he could understand the work!”

For more information on autism or how CRAEA can support your district’s needs, contact Jennifer Cline, CRAEA Special Education Consultant/Autism Specialist at jcline@centralriversaea.org or Mary Sherwood, BGM Elementary Principal at msherwood@brooklyn.k12.ia.us.

A Fair Shot

Every child deserves a fair shot! Learn about Dakota’s role as a manager on the West Fork basketball team. This quick snapshot video highlights how important it is to reach out and be inclusive.