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Glendale Unified’s pilot program for students with autism gets high marks

A pilot program launched a year ago to better motivate and engage autistic students who attend Glendale schools is meeting with success, teachers and administrators involved with the initiative told the school board this week.

“There’s nothing more important than to continue to make progress in terms of our professional practices,” Amy Lambert, assistant superintendent of special education for Glendale Unified, said of the program during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

During the just-completed school year, five teachers were each trained to use one evidence-based practice under a California initiative called CAPTAIN (California Autism Professional Training and Information Network). The training was offered through the state Department of Education.

Of the roughly 26,200 students enrolled in Glendale schools, nearly 600 are autistic, up from just over 400 students in 2011, according to a district demographic report.

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At Cloud Preschool, teacher Elysa Rosenfeld-Ortiz focused on positive reinforcement, and she observed more engaged students who communicated and collaborated more frequently with teacher specialists than in previous years.

“I was just astounded at how much progress these little 3-, 4-, 5-year-olds could do,” Rosenfeld-Ortiz said.

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At Columbus Elementary, teacher Simin Beshavard used a token economy method to reward first-, second- and third-graders for positive behavior with tokens or marbles. She said it motivated students while enforcing a positive classroom climate.

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At Horace Mann Elementary, Lauren Chase used with her students structured work systems, a method that utilizes visual learning tasks to refine students’ skills in math, reading or writing.

Chase’s fourth- and fifth-graders relied on fewer prompts from adults and worked more independently, she said.

At Wilson Middle School, Bozena Stanczak supported her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders with visuals over the course of the day, using photographs, written words, objects, labels, reminders or visual schedules to keep them on track.

Glendale High School students experienced a self-management practice that led to teacher Anthony Mohr reinforcing students’ positive behavior, which enabled them to eliminate their own negative or inappropriate behavior.

“We saw a lot more independence at the high school level. This was very rewarding, too,” Lambert said.

Over the next two to five years, the program could reach all autistic students districtwide, she said.

“We really hope moving forward that these early adopters will become our next group of leaders,” Lambert said.

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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