Educators, parents, administrators dive deep with inclusion support

Aug 10, 2020 | Education and Human Sciences, Innovation

More than 50 teachers, parents, school administrators and service providers from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Kentucky learned new instructional techniques to work with students on the autism spectrum in a variety of settings, including virtual learning.

The Summer Institute professional development, held at Louisiana Tech’s College of Education in the Boulware IDEA Place, had a variety of speakers discuss supporting students in virtual schooling, assistive technology for inclusion support, and visual supports and inclusion strategies.

“We hope that teachers left feeling better prepared to support the unique needs of these students for this school year and parents left feeling as if they had some fresh ideas and understandings to discuss at their child’s IEP meeting or use during virtual schooling this fall,” said Dorothy Parks, programs service coordinator with Lincoln Parish Special Education.

Parks, a twice alumna from Louisiana Tech, said Tech was a premiere place to host the event because of its location in north Louisiana. COVID-19, of course, presented it’s own difficulties, but Parks said the event was supportive and informative.

“Our last guest speaker, Bambi Polotzola, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs, gave a moving tribute to a colleague, April Dunn, a disability rights advocate who had fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy and died from COVID-19 this spring,” Parks said. “Ms. Dunn never got her high school diploma from Glen Oaks in Baton Rouge because she was unable to take standardized tests, but she and her mother fought for other students with disabilities to have that right, not just a certificate of achievement.

“Ms. Dunn was the driving force behind Act 833, a state bill to provide alternative graduation paths for students with disabilities. This means all the difference in the world to someone looking for employment as opposed to sitting at home. After Ms. Dunn’s death, the bill is now known as the April Dunn Act in her honor. Ms. Polotzola’s son, who has autism, graduated with a regular high school diploma last month, and stated that it was all due to Ms. Dunn’s self-determination.”

Laura Maciaszek, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports district coordinator with Monroe City Schools, said the event was a great refresher on law, available resources and supports for students, effective collaboration with parents, and self-advocacy.

“It’s important for me to have a variety of tools in my toolbox as I work with regular education and special education teachers and students from pre-k through high school,” Maciaszek said. “In education, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for students.  Plus, technology and resources are quickly changing; it was great to learn some specific techniques, sites and tools that can easily be recommended and implemented across ages, settings and ability level.”

Maciaszek added that the end goal is for all students to be able to reach their full potential and become independent, successful adults.

“Guiding them to think about the future as well as providing a time and place for them to share about themselves, their interests, and their wants and needs is critical so that they are able to be as independent as possible by the time they become adults,” she said.

College of Education Associate Dean Lindsey Vincent said she is pleased Tech was able to partner with Boulware.

“Our College of Education is grateful to have had the opportunity to play a small part in this important educational event,” Vincent said. “Ms. Parks and her colleagues are doing critically important work related to serving students with autism, and we hope to collaborate with these exceptional educators and leaders again next summer.”

Additionally, the event was streamed online and can be found at