Post by Rachel Harrison of NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, the home of the ASD Nest Support Project. The ASD Nest Support Project provides training, professional development, and on-site consultation for educators in the ASD Nest Program, New York City’s inclusion program for students with autism spectrum disorders. For more information, click here.
Last week, around 1.1 million students in New York City said goodbye to summer vacation as the new school year began. Among them were 900 students with autism in kindergarten through 12th grade, who, along with 3,000 of their general education peers, are part of the ASD Nest Program.
The ASD Nest Program is New York City’s inclusion program for students with autism spectrum disorders. “Nested” within supportive neighborhood schools, the program helps students with autism who are able to do grade-level work learn how to function academically, behaviorally, and socially in school and in their communities.
The program has grown dramatically since it was created in 2003 in a single Brooklyn school. For the 2014-2015 school year, the ASD Nest Program can be found in 35 schools (20 elementary, 10 middle and five high schools) in all five boroughs of New York City.
The ASD Nest program uses the standard New York City curriculum with additional supports for students on the autism spectrum. Each ASD Nest classroom has two teachers trained in the specialized curricula and instructional strategies used in the program.
On August 27, more than 400 educators involved in ASD Nest gathered in downtown Manhattan to get ready for the new school year. Teachers, principals, speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, social workers, and guidance counselors were among those filling the seats at the UFT’s headquarters.
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña welcomed the room of energetic participants with stories of her time as a classroom teacher, and later as an administrator who helped to develop and spread the ASD Nest Program throughout New York City. Despite her achievements as an administrator, she focused on the importance of what happens in the classroom each day.
“The answers are in the classroom,” Fariña said. “What you do every day to move a child from where he is to where he could be, [this] is the fundamental work of education.”
Fariña encouraged educators to exchange best practices for what works in their own classrooms, and to collaborate with fellow teachers, guidance counselors, and parents to provide supportive learning environments. “We need to go to school next week full of joy, hope, and determination that all kids will have the best experience possible in our New York City schools,” Fariña said.
Following the chancellor’s address, staff from the ASD Nest Support Project at NYU Steinhardt led a series of hands-on workshops. The workshops addressed a range of topics, including deescalating tense situations, bullying, group work, the power of language, and mindfulness.
As the day wrapped up, one middle school teacher tweeted, “Feeling #mindful and #excited for the upcoming school year thanks to the #asdnest kickoff!” The ASD Nest Program is poised for another exciting and successful school year, thanks to the teachers, administrators, and staff who make it happen.
*Note: “Keeping it Real,” a program of NYU Steinhardt’s ASD Nest Support Project, was a recipient of an Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grant in 2012. This great program works with successful self-advocates with ASD to develop self-advocacy and strength-based modules for students with ASD, beginning in the younger grades. Learn more in this Your Dollars @ Work post here!