Essential Elements in Cache County School District: Reaching students through skill building, inclusion, and exceptional educators

 

Tyler Brown teaches students by pointing to a lesson on the whiteboard

 

Every day, Essential Elements teachers and paraprofessionals make a profound difference in classrooms across the Cache County School District as they educate and care for their students. In Utah, Essential Elements are grade-specific expectations about what students with cognitive disabilities should know and be able to do. This means  Essential Elements educators not only teach reading, writing, math, and language skills but also nurture their students’ motor, social, and transitional skills.

 

CCSD Special Education Director Jeni Buist shared some examples of what students in Essential Elements might be learning in addition to academics. “Students are working on transitional skills that they’re going to need for everyday life, such as maneuvering around a school, standing in line, and transitioning from one activity to another,” she said. “They also learn social skills, such as getting along with friends, sharing, being part of a group or team—all those life skills that everybody has to have.”

 

The Cache County School District's commitment to inclusion is evident in the way students in Essential Elements classes integrate with their peers and friends in general education classes. “All of our students who receive Essential Elements services spend time in general education classes with their neurotypical peers at some point in the day, depending on their needs and abilities. ” Buist explained. “They eat lunch with their friends, they go to recess with their friends, and they go to specials with their friends. We have a lot of students who go to science and social studies in the regular education class.” 

 

Tyler Brown

 

The exceptional educators who teach and guide the students are at the heart of Essential Elements classrooms' success. Tyler Brown, an Essential Elements teacher at Heritage Elementary School, is a shining example of this. Her ability to reach students at an individual level and nurture their progress is matched only by her genuine love for students and her desire to see them grow and achieve.

 

In her classroom, Brown teaches reading, writing, math, social behavior, and science. She writes an Individualized Education Plan with goals for each student, taking into account their needs and academic abilities. Although her classroom includes students in several different grade levels (this year, it’s grades three through six), Brown strives to create a welcoming environment where all students feel like they belong and adapts her lessons and activities to benefit each student.

 

“We have built a lovely little community in our classroom,” she explained. “We have a classroom schedule and classroom activities, and then each student has their own individualized schedule where they go out with their same-aged peers.” Brown continued, “We push a lot for inclusion, but it’s meaningful inclusion. They’re participating with their peers in activities that are meaningful and beneficial to their academic achievements.”

 

Brown’s ability to reach and nurture her students on an individual basis comes from time, practice, and experience. Her interest in Special Education began when she was a peer tutor in seventh grade, which propelled her to obtain a degree at Utah State University. She has now taught Essential Elements for the Cache County School District for five years, all at Heritage Elementary. 

 

Brown credits much of her success to the team of six amazing paraprofessionals who work in her classroom. “They show up every day, and they are there for the kids, and we all work together as a really cohesive team to ensure that every kid is getting everything that they need and making gains,” she said. The Heritage Essential Elements team is so effective that they were recently honored by the Special Olympics for their efforts to promote inclusion at the school. As part of the recognition for excellence, the entire team received tickets to a Utah Jazz game.

 

Heritage Essential Elements team

 

When asked about her favorite part of her job, Brown confessed that she enjoys how every day is different. “I think sometimes people think that being a teacher can be kind of mundane,” she said, “but I don’t feel like my job is mundane at all. When you show up in the morning, you never know what your day is going to bring and just how much growth you get to see throughout. From when they arrive to when they leave, and then throughout the entire year—being able to teach a student to read or a student to use his eyes to communicate, you know, it’s never the same thing. Each year, each kid, and each day is always different. I love that.”