December 16, 2020 by Alex Berardi

Still searching for a few holiday gifts? Connections has got you covered with some of our favorite things!

1. Pinch Me Therapy Dough – Fold and mold this dough in your hands. Best part? It comes in a variety of calming scents.

2. Paint by Sticker books  – Level up from your color by numbers book to paint by stickers! Need something for your body to do while you focus in on a video or some audio? Give it a try!

3. We love a good fidget. Pictured on our gift guide is a Fidget Cube and Specs Magnet Balls. What’s your favorite fidget?

4. Weighted Blankets are a hit among our students and staff. Choose your preferred weight and material and let your body relax under the weight.

5. Let’s talk about this.

  • Ido in Autismland is a book written by Ido Kedar – a non-speaking autistic who, through a collection of essays, challenges traditional autism therapies and provides guidance as an autistic advocate. 
  • The Reason I Jump, now a documentary that has recently played at Sundance Film Festival is based on the book The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. The documentary film features stories from 5 autistics around the world. You can purchase tickets online to virtual screenings. Grab the popcorn and settle in.

6. Opinion piece – one of the best gifts you can give to someone is an experience. We don’t want to toot our own horn (ok maybe we do a little!), but we’ve got a community full of incredible service providers who want to connect with you! 

  • Hanley Bradfield is a certified yoga instructor, OT, and all around rockstar! You can book a private session with Hanley, but you probably will come back for more. So be prepared.
  • Our resident fitness guru, Jess Sibley of Minds in Motion OT, offers a fantastic fitness package. Hey – we all know the new year’s resolutions will be rolling in soon! Purchase a month long package that includes 2 live Zooms/week and watch those muscles grow!

Drop us a comment and let us know what your favorite things are!

October 21, 2020 by Alex Berardi

Teaching U.S. Government during one of the most controversial and historic elections of our time is not for the faint of heart. Lucky for us, Connections School of Atlanta is home to a group of superhero teachers who combine their superpowers to teach on such important topics.

Meet CSA superhero educators Rebecca and Julia. Rebecca, a founding faculty member, teaches U.S. Government while Julia teaches personal development and is our Director of Student Transitions. With the upcoming election, the two saw an opportunity to combine forces to educate our neurodiverse students about their right to vote. 

I had a chance to chat with Rebecca and Julia about how they teach about a topic that is so personal.

As educators in your respective classes, how do you teach about the election process and importance of voting without allowing your own personal beliefs to hijack the lessons?

Julia: Good question! In Personal Development, one of the things we focus on is how growing up and growing older brings more responsibility and freedom. Voting tied into this concept very organically because we talked about how it is a little of both- the civic responsibility we have as members of our community and citizens of our country AND the freedom to participate in democracy that we are granted when we turn 18. For me, speaking about the importance of voting from this angle focuses on voting as a personal process without zeroing in on the issues they will be voting on or for. The issues conversation is where I see a potential for my beliefs to hijack things, so I simply keep the focus where it belongs- on the students and where they stand as individuals.

Rebecca: As an educator, my ultimate goal is for students to involve themselves in their own learning process. Teaching this US Government course did not change my goal. So far, my focus has been on guiding students to access information to stay informed, apply their critical thinking skills, and share their voices and ideas.  Voting is one of the ways this can happen. Who they vote for is not important from my teaching standpoint.  I am vested in the students’ processes to come to their own conclusions.

Take us back to the beginning of planning for this year.  You know it’s going to be an election year – what were your first thoughts and feelings about teaching during what people all across the board would say is a historic election?

Rebecca: Knowing that I was teaching the US Government course this year, I was both excited and nervous. The year has been quite intense and heavy, and I did not want to add stress. However, avoiding the “hard” topics that are ever present for us all did not seem like the direction to go. I genuinely love teaching and learning with the students, and I truly have a good time doing this. Being able to provide a safe platform for students to learn and share relevant experiences while maintaining our community connections is something I am grateful for. Such connections as well as space for levity and humor are important in my classes when covering any theme or topic. We also make space for honoring serious and sensitive topics in a kind and respectful way. 

Julia: Well, the election has been on my mind constantly for obvious reasons, but working with adolescents who are all growing and forming their own opinions and identities is an excellent reminder of how personal the act of voting is. My role is to encourage self exploration and self advocacy in all of our students in all aspects of their lives, and elections are no exception. 

And even more so, as many of our older students are able to participate in the voting process – many for the first time – I knew it would be a potentially good topic to tie into our personal development sessions this year. After hearing enthusiastic feedback from some of the students in Rebecca’s US Government class, it seemed obvious that Rebecca and I would create a class collaboration on the topic of voting. It worked well for them to learn about the process and the issues during their Government class, and then in Personal Development we focused on supporting them in thinking about the steps they personally needed to take to participate in the election. 

Take us through the projects you have been working on with the students in preparation for the election.

Rebecca: We have taken the time to think about and analyze the purpose of our type of democracy.  We learned about the political theories that influenced the constitution and the type of governmental system we have. As for the upcoming elections, students researched and informed themselves. After I presented a list of the current dominant political issues for the upcoming election, each student chose their top three that they considered most important. Some of the most picked topics include: education, ethnic and racial inequality, supreme court, economy, climate change, and economic inequality. I encouraged and provided opportunities for students to do research on how each candidate stands or aligns themselves with their chosen topics. Students also previewed sample ballots. This gave a visual representation of how the ballot is organized, all the elections to be voted on, and the ballot measures and amendments for Georgia.  They learned about and inspected the ballot measures to ensure they understood the content to make an informed decision and/or practice becoming familiar with the wording and verbiage often used.

Julia: Rebecca and I collaborated on supporting the students to make an individual plan to vote. We came up with a series of questions to walk through their voting plan process. This entails having the students first think about if they even want to participate in the voting process- and thinking about why or why not. Asking them if they are registered or if they know whether they want to vote in person or mail in an absentee ballot. Then prompting them to think about the information they may want to have in order to make informed decisions on a candidate or an amendment ruling; and finally the logistical followthrough thinking of when, where, and how they will cast their vote either through mail in or going in person- (i.e. what kinds of supports will they need: transportation, parent support, communication partners, etc). Doing this at school also created an opportunity for the students to discuss and share their plans with their peers, which I think in turn got everyone more excited! 

Why do YOU vote?

Rebecca: To quote a student, it is important to vote “so other people are not making decisions for me” without my say. To quote John Lewis: “To vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.” They say it best!

Julia: I used to think voting was the most important way to participate in our democracy- however today I see it as an important piece of a larger action plan. I vote for the same reason I sign petitions, donate to causes, participate in protests, get involved with grassroots organizing, and support initiatives aiming to make the world a more equitable place for everyone- because it matters!! I also vote in gratitude with the understanding that it was not always a guaranteed right for all people, and in many ways the right is still being threatened today. It feels like the least I can do!

Hearing from Rebecca and Julia about their teaching process for the election inspires me to continue to educate myself and to make informed decisions based upon my own values.  Over the past two weeks you may have seen some pictures on our social channels that feature tweets from our Twitter account.  These tweets are the product of the work the students are doing in class and part of a set of questions from a lesson on creating a voting plan.

If you don’t already, follow us on Twitter and Instagram.  Like, share, and comment on our posts to share your voting plan. 

I’d like to leave with some final thoughts from Julia…

“Recently, I was sharing some about what we are working on with my brother and he pointed out how incredible it is for our student voters to be learning about democracy while being given the right to participate in it for the first time. I found that so moving. It truly made me emotional to think about. The fact that our students are helping to shape our future in this country gives me much needed hope!”

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