Before coming to Parkside full time in the Fall of 2016, Roberta Favant worked in an inclusion program but was looking for a school whose resources were dedicated 100% to special needs students. “As a speech and language therapist, my purpose is to support special needs students, and I wanted to work is a setting designed for them. The Parkside program places a particular emphasis on language learning, and that has been the focus of my practice over the years,” she said. Ms. Favant had attended professional development workshops at Parkside, including the Constable Reading sessions as part of the Parkside Summer Institute, and a Carol Gray lecture on social stories. “The workshops were excellent, as is the reputation Parkside holds in the special education community, she recalls.
Ms. Favant took some time to share with us her unique perspective on The Parkside School, our students, and our philosophy of teaching.
On what makes Parkside stand out from others schools in New York City:
Parkside sets high standards for staff members as well as students, and welcomes new ideas and discussion at every level. The Parkside program incorporates art, music, drama, yoga and physical education as an essential part of the curriculum, so that students have several arts/movement classes in their schedules every day. While just about every school acknowledges that students have a range of learning styles (Howard Gardner's "multiple intelligences"), it is rare to find a school that integrates different learning modalities as thoroughly as Parkside. Another feature that stands out at Parkside is the school's commitment to practicing kindness and understanding. This shows in the way staff members interact and cooperate with one another, in the way that staff members communicate with students, and in the way that students treat one another. Outstandingly friendly!
On the newest strategies and tools being used in Speech:
The Speech Department enjoys frequent meetings with Dr. Catherine Constable and Dr. Sima Gerber, consulting Speech and Language Pathologists. Dr. Constable designed the Parkside reading program, and a focus this year has been to bring teachers and therapists together so that our work to support the reading program can be more closely aligned. Speech and language therapists have taught reading groups, and joined with teachers to analyze methods, prioritize goals, and create materials to use in reading groups and individual therapy sessions. With Dr. Gerber, a mentor in the DIR/Floortime approach, speech therapists have reflected on play skills as a component of social development, and as an avenue for language learning. Discussions have centered around interpreting and evaluating play skills at different levels and in different contexts, to facilitate selection of partners for therapy groups and dyads and aid in planning therapy goals and activities for our students.
I enjoy finding creative approaches to engage different students. We've done lots of work this year to link visual and verbal skills, including "story posters" for the younger students, and video projects for more advanced students. Video and photos are great tools to support comprehension and help students organize ideas into narratives. I attended a workshop on video modeling and instruction at the annual ASHA convention in November, and this highlighted the success therapists at the U of Iowa have had making short, simple videos to teach social skills.
On her favorite student success stories:
In my first year at Parkside it has been a real pleasure working with first-year students, watching them form relationships and become part of the Parkside community. In September the students were clearly anxious about being in a new place, with new classmates and new rules and routines. They've all learned to see themselves as part of a group, and it's wonderful to hear them describe play dates and parties they've had together outside of school, bearing in mind that sharing experiences and making friends are major accomplishments.
It has also been very rewarding to work with an older student who has been having a hard time learning to read. This year, with lots of conversation and cooperation among members of the school team and the student's family, our student has made significant progress. The pace is not rapid and there is still a lot to learn, but he has outdone himself this year and we are all very proud of him.
Working with the students who will graduate is an equally gratifying experience, even though I haven't known them from the start of their time at Parkside. The process of choosing and applying to middle schools, going on school visits and interviews, and then waiting for acceptance letters signaled a major transition and lots of stress. But now we've reached the point in the year where everyone can take a deep breath and celebrate. I'm looking forward to the "Aladdin" musical, along with picnics, yearbooks, parties, and graduation.
On what surprises her most about Parkside students:
I'm surprised by the diversity of the students: ethnic, cultural, economic, as well as the wide range of talents and interests they bring. We have world travelers, musicians, gymnasts, dancers, comic book artists, fashion designers, historians...too many to list, and some that are as yet undiscovered. I'm amazed at the humor the students bring to the learning experience, and by their willingness to keep trying when tasks are difficult. They remind me that there are endless ways to express personality, thoughts, and feelings, and no single way to teach anything to anyone.
On our Parkside parent community:
As a group, Parkside parents are the most concerned, caring, supportive and responsive I've ever encountered. I'm thankful for the work parents do at home to carry-over instructional and therapeutic goals, and impressed by the opportunities they extend through participation in after-school programs and family activities. Children learn so much from family trips, attending ball games, visiting museums, and from less spectacular events like going to the park, reading together, or sharing a play date. It is so helpful when parents ask questions about their children's work in class and in therapy, and when there are chances to share and compare notes between home and school.
On what she’s learned in her first year at Parkside:
Since I started at Parkside, I feel that I've been part of a school that genuinely meets the standards it has set for itself. I think that Parkside succeeds because the learning environment is continuously examined and rigorously maintained, for example, in terms of how students are grouped, how progress is assessed and reported, how collaboration among staff members is engineered and supported, and in how instructional and therapeutic approaches are understood and applied. Other schools have lofty mission statements and impressive instructional programs, but without the structures and protocols needed to make sure they are fully and consistently implemented. Parkside is a model for how to implement standards and programs from day to day, and for every student. In particular, as a speech and language pathologist at Parkside, I've spent relatively more time discussing individual students with other team members, and given more care to writing and updating notes and reports. Scheduling student programs (classes, groups, therapy appointments) has been more efficient at Parkside, with smaller group sizes, and through shared initiatives to shift groups and re-arrange schedules when needed. Professional development at Parkside has been relatively more geared toward observing and evaluating individual students. These and other factors make speech and language therapy a more integral part of the overall program, and contribute to the success of the school program as a whole. This year has been all about learning how to best use my skills and experience as part of the Parkside community.
On why supporting the Annual Fund is so important:
The advantages that Parkside offers: small groups, individual focus, ample time for staff collaboration and professional development, come at a cost that is not fully covered in state and city budgets. Because parents and community members make financial gifts to Parkside, there is funding available for arts programs, technology, specialized instructional materials, and to provide staff members who offer individualized instruction, therapy, and behavioral support. Parkside School offers programs for children in an age-range (5-11 years) when they are critically in need of effective instruction and support. Contributing to Parkside School is a solid investment in their future, and a means of guiding development in the field of special education. Parents, alumni families, grandparents and friends have a special understanding and appreciation for what the Parkside approach has meant to their families, and for the example Parkside sets as a school dedicated to students with special needs.
This post is part of a series designed to highlight the outstanding staff that support Parkside students. If you have suggestions for future articles, please contact Anthony Kapp.
The Parkside School relies on the generous financial support of our community to ensure the individualized curriculum we offer for each child while maintaining our commitment to a diverse student body. Whether you are a grateful alumnus, thankful parent, or caring friend, your support enables Parkside to meet our day-to-day operational needs while offering a thoughtfully designed, comprehensive array of academic and support services.