Christopher Rice has been a Teacher in the Colonial IU 20 Autistic Support Program since 2017. He worked at Colonial Academy until the start of this school year with the opening of the Autistic Support room at Nitschmann Middle School, Bethlehem Area School District. He says the most rewarding part of his job is "Hearing from parents and family members about the progress (social, academic, whatever it may be) that they see in their child - or that I see in the student. Sometimes the smallest accomplishments make the biggest difference in the lives of our kiddos and their families, and it can be difficult to recognize during the daily grind."
Mr. Rice recognizes the importance of teaming and self care in helping students in a sometimes challenging environment, "You have to be able to lean on each other as team members and recognize the good that you are doing, sometimes out loud. Sometimes you need to tap out and give yourself a few minutes to breathe. Nobody can be perfect or do it, all but accepting that and doing the best you can makes all the difference."
When asked what piece of advice he would give a new employee starting out at the IU, he says, "Create positive relationships with your team as well as your students. Not only do students need to feel safe, accepted, and cared for to get the most out of their time in school, but so do the team members who are there to support them. School should be a secure and happy place for everyone first - all the rest is built on that foundation."
New Reverse Inclusion Buddy Program at Nitschmann Middle School
When CIU 20 opened the Autistic Support classroom at Nitschmann Middle School this year, Mr. Rice with the support of his Associate Teachers Juan Kauer and Marita Paton, created a "reverse inclusion" buddy program. The goal of the program is to promote inclusion and acceptance by bringing students from other classrooms into the Autistic Support classroom. The students learn from each other and share experiences about the common hurdles that middle school can present.
Mr. Rice's motivation to start the reverse inclusion program stemmed from the challenges that arose with traditional inclusion methods, "The reason I started this program is because getting my students out for inclusion classes proved to be quite a challenge given their needs for support, the schedule that middle schoolers follow, and the format of the classes. I wanted to find a way to support inclusion and everything that comes with it, but in a format that is better suited to my students."
With the early success of the program, Christopher is optimistic that this initiative will grow and continue to have a positive impact on the school community, "My students get to spend time interacting, socializing, and learning with peers that they otherwise likely don’t get to spend time with, and those peer buddies gain valuable experience in a number of ways as well - helping others, building relationships, and gaining an appreciation for those that might seem very different from themselves at first glance."