Jason Collins graduated from RIT’s School Psychology program in May 2005, and currently works at Bruce Street School for the Deaf in the Newark Public Schools in Newark, NJ. Although Jason is active in many realms of school psychology, his involvement in advocating for the inclusion of deaf and hard-of-hearing students by providing them with a continuum of services and supports has been the focus of his efforts, and the primary source of his accomplishments within the field. The following is a narrative provided by Jason describing his continuous dedication and hard-work in achieving success.
I was lucky enough to be hired by the Newark Public School District for the 2005-2006 school year to continue working at Bruce Street School for the Deaf after completing my internship there. We have about 60 students in 8 classrooms, from preschool to 8th grade. Bruce Street is housed inside of George Washington Carver Elementary School, which has about 900 students from grades K - 8. When I first arrived, one of the most striking features was just how separate the two schools were, despite sharing one building. The staff interacted only when they had to, and the students interacted even less. I was amazed that such separation existed among the students and disturbed at how the faculty and staff of both schools seemed to simply accept this. In addition, there were no program options for our students. The only options were to place our students in a regular education classroom with minimal supports or into a self-contained classroom. It was clear to me from the time I arrived that one of my long term goals needed to be to find ways to bring the two schools together, and also to expand the program options in order to begin offering a more inclusive continuum of placement options for the deaf and hard-of-hearing students. But like most interns, I spent most of my first year just trying to survive, learning the ropes, and not messing up too badly. One success we did have that helped set the stage for later changes was moving one of our hard-of-hearing students to a Carver classroom for Science. With a lot of sweet talking and the tireless efforts of an amazing teacher, we were able to start what would later develop into our consultation inclusion model.
My second year began with a new principal and the promise of change. I was now 'officially' a school psychologist, having graduated, and our new administrator seemed open to making changes at Bruce Street and Carver. I set a few short-term goals that year that I figured would be modest and not too overwhelming considering I was still fairly new and trying to establish myself without making too many waves. First, I hoped to increase the interactions between Bruce Street and Carver staff and faculty. I also wanted to keep the previously mentioned hard-of-hearing student in Science for 5th grade and keep our 4th grade teacher involved so we did not lose what we had already established. I started to spend a lot of time becoming familiar with the Science curriculum used in our district and consulting with the teachers to assist with planning accommodations and modifications for the students included in the regular education classroom. At the same time, I began joining several committees, including a building level School Leadership Committee and Professional Development Committee and a district level Consultation Steering Committee focusing on defining consultation practices for school psychologists in Newark. Through my time spent working on the building level committees, I was able to suggest changes and find support for activating small changes that would hopefully result in increased interactions between Bruce Street and Carver students and staff. My time on the Steering Committee gave me plenty of opportunities to help shape and define ideas for consultation that had previously not been a significant part of a school psychologist's role in Newark. The focus has been on Inclusion and acting as a consultant to regular education teachers faced with teaching students with disabilities. By the end of my second year we had increased the number of students attending Science in the regular education classroom to three. I realize this is a small number, but the effects in the building were much larger. Several regular education teachers began asking to become part of the program, requests for sign language classes began to come in, and we became proud of the successful consultation model we had established. Unfortunately for my love of sleep, we also had something that was about to become much larger and involved than I had anticipated.
Up until last summer, our efforts were mostly made as part of a building level plan initiated by myself and one of our teachers. Over the summer, in the middle of providing counseling services to our Extended School Year students and conducting psychological evaluations for the larger district, my supervisor contacted me and asked if we would like to be part of a pilot Inclusion program funded by a grant from the State of New Jersey's Department of Education. By becoming involved, we were able to expand our program from just a consultation model to also being able to offer In-Class Support with the addition of an Inclusion Teacher. With the added support of this teacher, we have been able to increase the number of hard-of-hearing students involved in regular education Science classes to eight, and we have mainstreamed these students into Math classes as well. After much advocating and pleading, we have been able to purchase classroom FM systems for all of the regular education classrooms, initiate a sign language class for students and another for parents and staff, and also get the district to enter into negotiations with the union to add lines into the budget for interpreters.
Currently I am working closely with our building administrators and our Inclusion Teacher to gain approval for two additional Inclusion Teachers, several interpreters, and additional assistive technology resources including Smart Boards and video conferencing capabilities in order to meet our projected goals for the next two years. We hope to give all deaf and hard-of-hearing students access to these supports, and expand inclusion efforts to subject areas other than Science and Math. The ultimate goal is to have the ability to offer a full continuum of program options for our students and students from surrounding districts.
At the risk of sounding patronizing, I would like to end by thanking the entire faculty and staff from RIT and NTID who I was lucky enough to study under. I would also like to thank my classmates who supported me through many rough times. Upon entering Newark, I found that my training was much more intense and comprehensive than that of others entering the district at the same time from other programs. I have drawn heavily on the diverse curriculum focusing on all areas of school psychology, and truly appreciate the extensive practicum experiences I had since my first day. Overall, my first three years out in the field have been filled with success and have been extremely rewarding for me, and more importantly, for the students I serve.