Rebecca Johnson knows the value of Area Education Agency (AEA) services. As a stay-at-home mother of five children, four of whom receive services from Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267), Johnson has had plenty of experience with staff from the agency coming into her home to provide direct service to her children. Over the past five years, Rebecca's children have received services ranging from speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, early intervention support and service coordination.
"The AEA has really been there for us," said Johnson. "I don't know where our kids would be without their help over the years."
Currently, the agency is serving Johnson's son, Jeffery, who is just under 2 years old and has developmental delays. Pat Stenzel, an AEA 267 special education early childhood educator, has been coming into Johnson's home every other week to provide services. But something is different this time. Rather than Johnson just observing, she is the one working with Stenzel, who in turn is teaching her how to help Jeffery. The approach represents a major shift in philosophy regarding the delivery of AEA services. Rather than the AEA consultant providing services directly to the child in the home on bi-weekly basis or through another set schedule, the parent is given instruction and strategies to use with the child daily. And studies prove that it works.
"This model holds a lot of promise for the families and children that we serve," said Dr. Mary Stevens, AEA 267 Director of Special Education. "Intuitively, we know that the parent or caregiver has many more opportunities than we do to interact with the child receiving services. If we can provide them with the tools and strategies to help, we can expect much more rapid growth and change."
Putting parents and caregivers in the role of active participants, rather than an as observers, has other benefits as well. "I understand more at IEP [Individualized Education Plan] meetings now. It's all just easier. I feel more like an expert," Johnson said. She's also seen rapid improvement with Jeffery. "I just repeat, repeat, repeat with him the things that I've learned from Pat and he's doing much better."
Stenzel, who is part of a cadre of AEA 267 staff who received specialized training in the coaching approach over the summer, said the model will be used with all new families entering the special education system in early childhood and will be expanded to teachers and caregivers as well. "The research and our experience tells us that this works," Stenzel said. "We have an obligation to keep going."
In the meantime, Johnson can't say enough positive about the arrangement. "Pat and I have gotten to know each other better in the last six months than ever before."
Stenzel agrees. "This a partnership. We are in it together. When we work together, we can do amazing things for these kiddos."
*Family names were changed for publication.
Beth Strike is the Director of Communications with Area Education Agency 267 based out of Cedar Falls, Marshalltown and Clear Lake. She can be reached at (800) 392-6640. Iowa Area Education Agencies (AEAs) were created in 1974 by the Iowa legislature to ensure equal educational opportunities for all children from birth through age 21. As regional service agencies, AEAs provide special education and school improvement services for students, families, teachers, administrators and their communities. Learn more at www.iowaaea.org or www.aea267.k12.ia.us.