How Educators Are Helping Students With Special Needs in the Age of COVID

Remote learning is new for many students, but TEC Connections Academy, the largest virtual school in Massachusetts, has been providing online curriculum tuition-free since 2015

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Remote learning has been a struggle for many teachers, parents and students across Massachusetts — especially for those with special needs.

And even for families who have been doing virtual learning well before the pandemic, there is a huge learning curve.

"I was so over-the-top stressed, couldn't figure things out," said Anita LaBarbera of Wilbraham.

Anita's 16-year-old daughter, Celia LaBarbera, switched to online learning when traditional school became too difficult with her health issues.

"Huge challenge in 2019 when she underwent brain surgery and she woke up deaf," said Anita LaBarbera.

But amazingly, Celia LaBarbera has managed to maintain her positivity — and her school work.

And the teen believes those having a hard time tackling the remote model could learn a lot from her school TEC Connections Academy – known as TECCA.

"Don't give up, make sure you talk to your teachers and they will help you, that's what they're there for," she said.

TECCA is the largest virtual school in Massachusetts, and it's been providing online curriculum tuition-free since 2015.

In addition to TECCA's 2,700 students, this year, the Walpole-based school partnered with roughly 30 school districts to provide remote lessons for about 4,000 additional students.

"We're offering districts the ability to take a single course or a course bundle through TECCA," said TECCA Superintendent Patrick Lattuca.

The TECCA model combines live lessons with independent work, while paying specific attention to incorporating various learning strategies to reach students who learn in different ways.

"From closed captioning for a student that's hearing impaired, to providing assistive technology and strategies for students who are visually impaired, virtual speech and language, OT services," said TECCA's special education director, Terri Green.

Green says remote learning can even end up benefiting students who can't focus for long periods of time, allowing them to take breaks or work at their own pace.

"Really talk about what are the expectations," suggested Green, "and how are you going to provide the services that are outlined in the student's IEP through a virtual setting."

Anita and Celia LaBarbera also have advice for teachers trying to find the best ways to reach special needs children through the remote model.

"Try not to replicate the classroom," said Anita LaBarbera. "Try not to do the exact same thing they're doing in the classroom."

"It's totally different," interjected Celia LaBarbera.

"Right, they have to almost embrace the online and teach differently," her mother agreed.

You are your child's biggest advocate. If something isn't working, they say you should reach out to the teacher or special education director and try to work with them to find a solution.

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