Saturday, July 22, 2006

Valerie Update - July 22, 2006

While in Mexico June 6th - July 9th, I had the opportunity to continue working with Valerie and her mother Alejandra. During my stay we had multiple follow up visits with her local pediatrician. Consistant weight gain & positive lab results have indicated that Valerie is doing really well! As of yesterday Valerie now weighs a little over 24 lbs! What I have enjoyed most is watching the changes in Valerie's awareness, expression and activity! She is such a bright little girl! Although the pictures of Valerie show her physical changes...they don't show the spunky character of this little girl. I have videotape (that I hope to be able to put online...with some technical guidance!!!) that shows Valerie "expressing" to me through eye movements & facial expressions that she feels that she has returned to the United States when we are relaxing in the 50's style Johnny Rockets burger joint in Playa del Carmen. Other clips show Valerie smiling and giggling as her little sister jumps on the bed. An even more impressive clip shows Valerie exerting her personality & showing off her little legs as she "bicycles" in an effort to move up her little dress after I lowered it telling her we need to not show too much "leg"! rewarding....words can not express the love that I have for this little girl and her mother who so bravely trusted in us all. My hope is that I will have them in my life forever.

In an effort to support the ongoing needs of Valerie and children like Valerie, I am creating a sponsorship program as part of the ongoing Valerie Project. I have begun updating the website and when plans are finalized I will send information out to all the Carrie's Heart supporters. I hope that through this project each of you will be able to feel the personal joy and love that I have felt experiencing the changes in a child as I have helped to improve their life. This is truly an example of EMBRACING THE POTENTIAL IN ALL CHILDREN!

To read the chronological posts about Valerie and her journey go to the archive index to the right of the blog page. Posts begin in March 2006 and continue to the present!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Fund for Teachers: Yucatan Projects

This year I was blessed to have been awarded a personal grant from the Fund for Teachers. This grant has enabled me to travel to the Yucatan to complete a number of personal & professional projects.

During my five week trip to the Yucatan this summer I had the opportunity to study Spanish, strengthening my professional speaking skills. I took private lessons that have allowed me to focus directly on terminology needed as a special educator. I translated a set of stimulation activities that were given to mothers in the Early Intervention program at Centro de Atencion Multiple, the special education school where I volunteered my time. It was a pleasure working with this group of mothers and their teacher Liliana who is extremely dedicated to these children and their mothers. My hope is that the moms will be able to use the activities along with their physical therapy routines to continue working with their children over their summer break. In addition, I created and translated a list of interview questions that I will use when I go into the homes of children with disabilities during ongoing child find missions in coordination with the Angel Notion clinic.

I had the opportunity to work with each group of students and staff at Centro de Atencion Multiple. Getting to know the students and teachers was a rewarding experience. Directora Isabel set up a rotation schedule for me that began with the youngest students (infants & toddlers accompanied by their mothers) and moved up grade level by grade level. This allowed me to get a good understanding of the skills focused on at each level and the set up of their programming.

I have used the blog to document my experiences and the ongoing projects that I will be working on in the region. A huge thank you to the Fund for Teachers and their sponsors for providing me with this great opportunity.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Intervencion Temprana, Prescholar & Primaria

During my first week at Centro de Atencion Multiple I had the pleasure of getting to know the younger students and their teachers. A typical day for the students begins at 7:00 in the morning and ends mid-day at 11:00. The students have activities until mid way through the morning and then stop for a small mid morning breakfast followed by a few minutes of "recreo" or recreation. They then return to their classrooms for the remainder of the morning. The school is comprised of 3 long buildings (one classroom in width) made of concrete block. The classrooms have a ceiling fan but no airconditioning. The windows are along both the front & rear of the classroom and have louvered wooden shutters that open to allow for airflow. I was pleased to see that there is a bathroom in each of the classrooms of the younger children. Each classroom has modest furnishings of tables, chairs and desks depending on the size and needs of the children. Decorations are sparce, but reflect the creativity of each teacher.

Intervencion Temprana
I really enjoyed visiting with the Early Intervencion group. This group is comprised of young children anywhere from 18 months up to 6 years depending on the severity of the child´s disability. The students are accompanied by their mothers to class. This serves two purposes, first their is not staffing available to care for the needs of all of the children and secondly, the mother´s learn how to work with their child and support one another. The group focuses on physical therapy and stimulation activities. Weekly each child receives one hour of direct physical therapy with the therapist. The current teacher of the group has also instituted having daily therapy time within the classroom where the moms & children go through their therapy programs. Following physical therapy the group then does stimulation activities focusing on oral, visual, auditory and tactile stimulation. The mothers also receive weekly therapy sessions with the school psychologist to discuss their needs in regard to their child and their family. I was extremely impressed by the dedication of the mothers and their teacher.

The preschool group at CAM is full of energy! Wow! Alot different than working with highschool students! What cuties though! In order to continue into preschool a student must be ambulatory. This for me was very difficult to accept considering I work with children with more involved physical disabilities and I know the benefit they receive from attending school. A large percentage of the kids in the preschool group have Down Syndrome. Most appear to have mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. Most can follow directions well and only a few have disruptive behavior problems. This group really enjoyed having their pictures taken as they played outside. Their indoor activities focus on colors, shapes, puzzles, songs, picture books etc. This group due to size and age would really benefit from structured teaching stratagies in terms of classroom groupings, organization, centers etc. Some future goals!

Primaria (1st & 2nd grade)
The lowest level elementary group is 1st & 2nd grade. What must be understood is that children can be in this group up until 9 or 10 years old. The problem faced by the special education system is that as a whole they are still required to educate their students based on the curriculm taught in the regular education schools. Thus, a child does not pass up until the upper grades until they have either mastered enough of the skills taught or eventually when their need to be with an appropriate peer group. At CAM there are two classrooms of 1st and 2nd grade students. The students in this group begin to learn their letters, numbers, and concepts of numbers, space & location. Some students also begin learning to read and do math depending on their functioning level. The challenge that begins to develop at this level is the divide between the children with mild disabilities who can do academic work (that we would consider resource level students or students who can be integrated into the regular classroom) and those who truly need to do more functional type activities. This issue was raised by many teachers throughout the school and is beginning to be addressed on a state and national level as the practice of integrating students into the regular elementary schools has begun.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Friday, July 07, 2006

Upper Levels of Primaria 3rd - 6th grades

The second half of my observations were spent observing the older students in grades 3 through 6. Students in the 3rd & 4th grades were students that we would consider junior high age students. The mandated curriculum at these grade levels continues to be a regular education academic focus which is frustrating to the teachers as they see the need to begin to include more functional, life skills and vocational activities for their students. As in the lower grades there were students in the upper levels that I felt would have been in inclusive settings in our school systems. Inclusion is a new practice in the Mexican school system. Currently students are being mainstreamed back into their neighborhood schools and special education teachers are being placed into the schools to provide support to a case load of students. The challenge that is being faced is that not enough teachers are being allocated for the students. Often 1 teacher will have to cover multiple schools in one day. Thus students are not receiving the support they need and are getting "lost" in the system. Students in the 5th & 6th grade are what we consider high school students ranging in age from 14 to 17 years of age. Students graduate from primaria at age 17. Thus, no secondary schooling is provided for students with disabilities in Mexico. They are educated based on elementary curriculum and are in segregated schools until "graduation". Teachers expressed concern that students are not provided opportunities to interact with non disablied peers in their age group. Another large concern is that students are not being taught the skills neccessary for independent living beyond graduation. This concern is echoed by Directora Isabella who will be focusing on the development of workshops at the school during the upcoming school year. The plan is to develop workshops where older students at CAM can focus on developing vocational skills that may lead to employment in the community. I look forward to working with the school on these new projects. I shared ideas with the diretor as to how facilities at the school, including the maintence / carpentery shop and kitchen, could be better utilized to teach students life and vocational skills.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

More Faces of the Yucatan.....

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I always enjoy working with the students in the "Audicion" group. This group has students who all have hearing impairments. The students instruction is bilingual focusing on Mexican sign-langauage and written Spanish. At CAM in Playa their is one audicion group with students ranging in age from preschool to sixth grade. What a challenge! Students in the audicion group typically do not have intellectual disabilities and thus the focus is on the regular education curriculum with an emphasis on communication using sign language. It is really interesting observing the group and seeing how skilled the students are at utilizing sign. Again, the challenge faced by special educators is that the educational system in Mexico does not support the need for these children to have any secondary education. Their teacher Manuel spoke with me about the success stories he has experienced of students going on to find employment in the community. Unfortuneately, there are also many instances of students who do not go on to live independent lives and who are even taken advantage of within their colonias. One aspect of CAM that really impressed me is that often former students are hired as teacher assistants to work in the classrooms with younger students after they have graduated. The teacher assistant pictured with the audicion students is a former student who did a really great job working with the students in small group activities.

Monday, July 03, 2006

More pics of the Audicion kids...

I always love to see the love amongst siblings in the kids' lives...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Clausura - A beautiful experience!

One of the most interesting aspects of my time spent at Centro de Atencion Multiple was participating in the prepartations and dance practices for the "Clausura" or closing ceremony. The clausura is an interesting cultural experience that takes place on the closing day of school in schools throughout Mexico. I was excited to see that the students at the CAM schools also get to have a closing ceremony. For weeks the students and teachers practice the cultural dances that the students will perform for their family and friends at the "Clausura". Each group also works on costumes and props that the dancers will use. Such color and creativity! At CAM the students performed traditional dances from various regions of Mexico. In addition, students who were graduating from the pre-school and sixth grade (primaria) groups did special graduation dances and received their certificates. It was a beautiful experience watching this festive celebration!

Clausura Pics....Practice to Performance!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fund for Teachers Project in the Yucatan...Closing Thoughts

Spending weeks observing and volunteering at Centro de Atencion Multiple was a very valuable experience for me that will allow me to work on future projects at the school. Through working with students and staff, I now have a better understanding of the needs at the school which will allow me to provide the school with resources and materials to expand upon their programming. I gained an overall understanding of educational and community resources available to the children and their families. I am always excited to meet other educators that share my passion for working with children with disabilities. I truly believe that passionate teachers are the key to success for our kids. Facilities, resources, budgets...are all very different in Mexico compared to the U.S. - but what truly matters is the love & passion of the teachers.

In addition to working in the schools while in the Yucatan, I continued working in cooperation with Angel Notion (a local non-profit organization in Playa del Carmen, Mexico) on child find missions in the region. Children with more severe cognitive, physical and behavioral disabilities are not being served by the public education school system in Mexico. The school system lacks the staffing, budget, facilities and training to work with these children. The goal of the child find missions is to go into the community, into the homes of the children to find out what resources are available to help families care for their children. Information about child find missions will be updated on the Carrie's Heart website at

You can also read about the Valerie Project on the website. Valerie is a young girl who was identified during a March, 2006 child find mission who has inspired many to help the children of the island of Cozumel. Read about Valerie and the Valerie Project in the blog archives (March until present) and on the website linking to the Valerie Project page from the homepage.

I would like to extend my personal gratitude to the Fund for Teachers and all of it's sponsors for giving me the opportunity to have personal and professional experiences in the Yucatan this summer that will enhance my ability to positively affect the lives of children with disabilities.

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