Cedar Hill ISD

Special Education Students Push Through Pandemic Changes

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A year after COVID-19 changed the way school systems work, there are still some challenges to work through. But there are also some major success points.

It takes a special person to sit down and teach students who learn differently.     People like Breanna Nelson at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas. She found the most creative way to teach her high school students how to count money and interact with others by creating an on-campus coffee shop.

But what do you do when special needs students can't come to class? Of all the questions we didn't have answers to at the beginning of the pandemic, this was the toughest for educators and administrators. How do you educate students at home whose brains thrive on schedule and routine?

"We’ll bounce ideas off each other and say tell the parents, 'Try this. Or try this,'" said Melissa Tyler, special education teacher. 

In Cedar Hill, the routine became socially distant visits. Special ed teachers went door to door, to talk to their students. They explained how important it is to do work, and set new routines and schedules. The teachers also expressed that they would see them online and would be back for a visit in one week.

Finding solutions for special ed students not only wasn't easy for schools but also a huge challenge for parents. They spend countless hours helping their kids and had to find a way to get through it 24 hours a day.

NBC 5 talked to Anthony and Tina Butler who worked to find a way for their grandson Jayden to thrive at home with them while his mother worked.

"About 15 minutes before you got here we had a mini-meltdown," said Anthony. "With Jayden being autistic when his routine is interrupted it becomes a difficult scenario."

They used his favorite snack, chicken nuggets, as a reward for staying focused.

Rewards didn't work for everyone though.

Elvia Espino said she knew her son would be losing huge ground every day he wasn't in the classroom.

"I believe he is more at risk staying here, not being allowed the opportunity to thrive and be the best version of himself in the pandemic," she said. 

Espino found the remote learning frustrating with too many expectations as she tried to balance home life, work, and caring for her autistic son. 

"No matter how well-intended each school system was, no one was prepared for the tsunami that is this pandemic. I believe now we're seeing school systems and entities be proactive because obviously everything that goes on is learn as you go. It's very reactive and our kids quite honestly Wayne have been the biggest casualties," she said.

When the lawmakers finally dictated schools were to open again, most districts opened the doors to families with special needs first.

Experts have told us in some cases they have even bounced back better than other students. Their unique brains having a better time picking up where they left off.

Jayden is a prime example. He thrived so much this year he was awarded for his achievement by the National Elementary Honor Society.  

"I think this year has made all of us realize what teachers go through," said Butler.

"To see Jayden, even with his condition, using the mouse, identifying shapes, figures, and sounds and everything, he really did well in my opinion. A lot better than I thought he was going to do."

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