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New autism project now underway in Somerset

Last winter the Somerset School District was selected to be part of a national project on autism.

Somerset's involvement in the autism project recently got underway. Two people from the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders and one consultant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) spent several days meeting with Somerset school staff members.

Darren Kern, Director of Pupil Services for the School District, is leading the project. He is joined in the effort by two District teachers, the occupational therapist, speech pathologist, psychologist and a parent.

There are 16 students in the District currently diagnosed as autistic. Three of those students were selected to be the first Somerset students to go through a new diagnostic process, called APERS (Autism Program Environmental Rating Scale).

The National Development staff members instructed the Somerset staffers to conduct APERS. Based on the results of these tests, the District will be doing Goal Attainment Scaling, which is considered more detailed than the IEP (Individualized Education Program) done for each autistic student.

Once the work is done at the Somerset level, it will be forwarded to the National Development staff. Their staff will study the Somerset work and will give feedback to help the teaching of the autistic students in Somerset more effective.

In preparing to have their work reviewed, each Somerset staff member in this group will be videotaped teaching the autistic students.

The Somerset staff is working with the 20 evidence-based practices in teaching autistic students.

"This will help us do things the right way," Kern said. "It ensures you are doing the whole practice the right way."

The Somerset staff will go through a year of this training. Somerset will then serve as a model site for other schools around the Midwest that are looking to advance their teaching of autistic students.

Somerset was chosen for this project largely because it had already taken a progressive approach to teaching its autistic students.

"They wanted a district that was already doing good things and had the capacity to grow and be a model project," Kern said.

Bi-lingual aide

The School District is in the process of hiring a bi-lingual aide at the elementary level.

In grades Pre-K through third, there are now more than 10 Spanish speaking students. There is an ELL (English Language Learners) teacher at the elementary. But there is a state requirement that as ELL populations reach certain levels, more staff must be added to help in their instruction. The 10 students at the Elementary is a level where the District is required to hire a half-time aide.

Kern said the state is increasing its accountability in the area of ELL students. He said he expects that the requirements and paperwork involved in the ELL category will soon match students involved in Special Education.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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