Every day, students and teachers at The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) do amazing work. Whether working on academics, job training, physical fitness, or the many other skills that school helps them with, every second of every day is spent learning and growing. Recently, one residential team, led by program specialist, Stephanie Bonfonte, MS, BCBA, LABA, and teacher Morgan Gould, started working on new lessons to NECC’s curriculum, one dealing with diversity and acceptance.
Acceptance is at the core of NECC’s mission. The entire staff, from teachers to maintenance workers to executives, are advocates for those living with autism, and every effort, from teaching to designing the ACE ABA software system to speaking with government agencies about the Center’s work, is done with the stated intention of helping them. In addition to trying to help students maximize their independence and achieve as much as they can, NECC is invested in trying to get those outside the autism world to become more accepting. This year, Autism Awareness Month has also been branded as Autism Acceptance Month, an incremental but important step in achieving this goal. The spirit of acceptance, albeit with a different topic, is what sparked the lessons piloted by Bonfonte and Gould on their residential team throughout the last several months.
In the wake of the renewed emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion in society over the last year, teachers on Bonfonte’s team felt it was necessary to add curriculum that would help their students learn about differences. While these lessons are a small step, they are crucial in the development of students.
“The key of these lessons is accessibility. We want every student possible to be able to understand the content, and from there we can adapt it to individual students’ abilities,” says Bonfonte.
For one class during this series of lessons, accessibility came in the form of breaking the full lesson into different parts. First, came a full group lesson focused on identifying differences and similarities in shapes, colors, and patterns. Every student on the team participated in this part of the lesson, with Bonfonte and Gould leading the discussion using one of the school’s interactive Promethean boards. From there, students broke into smaller groups to discuss treating people fairly despite differences, with the full-class lesson culminating in creating a set of new “class rules” centered around what they had just learned. At this point, the class broke off into two groups, some began a base-level discussion about ethnicities and religions, while other students continued on with different work. To supplement lessons like this on diversity and acceptance, and in recognition of Black History Month, students also have been learning about Black writers and musicians.
While still being workshopped and refined, the result of this series of lessons is an increasingly comprehensive educational experience for NECC students. By expanding curriculum to encompass new lessons, teachers are given the opportunity to refine their abilities as educators, while students benefit from a diverse learning experience.
About The New England Center for Children
The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) is a private, nonprofit center providing evidence-based treatment and services for children with autism. Programs include in-home ABA therapy for infants and toddlers, a full-service day school for children age 4-22, and a safe, structured residential program that seamlessly integrates with the day school. NECC also oversees special education classrooms in public schools throughout New England and consults with families around the world. The technology division has patented its curriculum – the Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia (ACE®) ABA Software System – which is used by more than 8,000 learners worldwide.
NECC is committed to diversity and staff professional development, partnering with local colleges to provide on-site graduate training and degrees at little to no cost to the NECC teacher. The result is a growing pool of exceptional teachers trained in best-in-class methodologies, whether they continue their careers at NECC or move on to public schools or private agencies. The New England Center for Children is based in Southborough, MA, and operates a center in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Learn more at www.necc.org.