North Penn Special EDition
Issue: #1February 2015
In This Issue

Round Up:

What does "All students can learn" mean to you?



Cara Weinberg, Learning Support Teacher at York Avenue,

believes "all students can absolutely learn!

As a special education teacher here in the district, my school recently began moving towards a more inclusive model for math. I cannot begin to express how proud I am of these students! They have worked so hard and have accomplished so much! They may need different supports in place for them to learn, but they can and will learn, and have proved to do so. Some strategies that we utilize are computation charts, calculators, color-coded models, and models during assessments. Not only am I proud of these kids, but they are proud of themselves....and that's what is so great!"




Sue Ahart, Behavior Specialist at NPHS and Pennbrook,

views learning as bigger than just academics:

"I truly believe that all children can learn, I have found that sometimes the concepts that are most valuable for them are not concepts that come from a curriculum or are measured by a standardized test. I see the students whose behaviors are getting in the way of their learning and it's part of my role to find ways to make that better.

Most recently I have found the support of assistants in my buildings to be extremely critical to the success of plans that are created and therefore the success of the students that they work with. I have seen many assistants go above and beyond to support students. I really feel that they are the unsung heroes of our department and I wish that they received more recognition for what they do. It only takes one of them being out one day to see the effect that they have. I couldn't do my job without them."




Luann Ingram, Learning Support Teacher at NPHS and Hatfield,

supports learning for all through creativity and collaboration:


"Colleen Parker and I have a student with multiple physical and academic difficulties. We have paired the student's love of reading with a less desirable physical therapy goal of standing in the stander. Each day, Colleen and I put the student in the stander before I start the reading lesson. I provide the focused reading lesson while the student receives 35-45 minutes of a valuable PT exercise that stretches and strengthens muscles. This allows the student to remain focused on the reading lesson rather than the sometimes grueling aspect of standing."




Sonia Smith, Learning Support Teacher at Knapp, shares her reaction to the mantra, "All Students Can Learn":


"This mantra is being heard all throughout the United States for over a decade now.  What does it really mean?  Educators are faced with so many different challenges now than years gone by.  Students are often placed in more restrictive environments because it has become the "thing" to do.  However, is that what is best for the child?  Research shows that both socially and emotionally it is not for the majority of children who grow up feeling excluded and different in special education classrooms.


Academically they may not be challenged and sometimes become complacent in the special education classroom where needs can range from 0 to 10 on a spectrum. "Enabling" students by restricting them from various levels of general education can be more harmful in the development of an adult than helpful. 


What does this mantra mean to me?  It means allowing students to participate in their education at whatever level they can in as normal an environment as possible.  It means restricting the use of specially designed instruction to exact pockets of where the child needs support instead of a widespread blanket of use.  It means kids can learn something every day that will be useful to them as productive adults. The challenge is really as educators how far will we absorb this mantra and put it to work in our classes, across all settings, and beyond."




Director's Corner: 
All Students Can Learn  


"All students can learn." As educators, we hear this mantra all the time but what does it really mean?


To me, the idea that all students can learn means no exceptions and no excuses. It is a philosophy that all children benefit from the rich curriculum North Penn has to offer. This tenet is rooted in the belief that despite students' disabilities, backgrounds or upbringings, they can be successful with good instruction and the proper supports. This is where we come in as educators. It is our role and responsibility to see beyond children's challenges and help them realize possibilities that perhaps they do not even believe are attainable.


Cheryl Jorgensen, a researcher at the University of New Hampshire, argued for "presumed competence" of our students with disabilities. Rather than assigning our own value judgments to whether or not a student can learn a concept, we assume that they are capable. Relegating them to lower standards closes off opportunities that may be within their reach.


If we really believe that all students can learn, we walk the talk. We include them in regular education to the maximum extent possible. We provide accommodations and modifications to the curriculum that allow multiple entry points for learning. We accept responsibility for their learning and don't blame external factors.


This is what "all students can learn" means to me. What does it mean to you?


Our inaugural issue of the North Penn Special EDition focuses on this theme and highlights individuals who have embraced this ideal.  I hope you enjoy reading about the exciting things that are happening for our students with disabilities and the amazing work of our very talented staff.


Jenna Mancini Rufo
Director of Special Education and Student Services



High Expectations for All
Chrissy Kelly
Learning Support Teacher, Inglewood
 "All students can learn," means exactly what it says. Each student who enters our buildings is capable of learning. It is our job to have high expectations of our students and to believe in them and 
Chrissy Kelly works with a guided reading group in an inclusive class.
challenge them however and whenever we can. I think that everyone comes into the teaching profession with this belief, and with the intention of making a difference in the lives of kids. The day to day struggles and increasing pressures in education may make it hard for us, though, to adjust to a student with significant needs. Sometimes, it may feel or look like a student cannot learn something. This year has been a testament to just that for me. Here at Inglewood we had a student join us with needs beyond what we typically see in a learning support setting. This student tested multiple grade levels below in both reading and math. At first, both my colleagues and I were concerned. How could this student succeed in this setting with such diverse needs? CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE
Motivation and Building Relationships
Brett Storm
Learning Support and Emotional Support, Pennbrook

When I think of the concept that all students can learn, I think the most important component is finding what motivates the student. It is critical to build relationships with students to know their interests, background, past experiences with education, and support system or lack thereof. That is why I love working in special education because it allows for us to make connections. Once we can connect with them and commit to them, students will usually respond back in a positive way. I find this mostly true with those students with behavioral needs...READ MORE
Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover
Alysha Brough
Multiple Disabilities Support, NPHS

We have all heard the cliché, "don't Judge a book by its cover." This is especially true in my classroom. The students with whom I work with have severe disabilities and are therefore often seriously underestimated. The statement, "All students can learn," is one that we hear more and more in the field of education but the question is: do we believe it to be true? As educators I sure hope that we ALL believe in this statement. I am a firm believer in this theory because I see it to be true every day... CLICK FOR FULL STORY

A Personal Journey 

Barb D'Silva

Autistic Support Assistant, Nash


As a result of my personal journey of raising a child with a learning difference, I strongly believe in the tenet that All Students Can Learn. My son has taught me that All Students Can Learn. He evolved over the years from being a globally delayed child to an independent young adult.  READ MORE  

Inclusion Task Force Updates

The mission of the Inclusion Task Force is to guide the planning, evaluation, refinement and expansion of inclusive practices in the North Penn School District.  This Task Force, established in December 2014, consists of over ninety individuals volunteering their time to improving our services for students with disabilities.  The group is guided by a three-year plan and encompasses special education and regular education teachers, administrators, special education assistants and parents.  Five teams, each with a unique focus, comprise the Task Force.  READ ON FOR UPDATES ON OUR WORK... 


Professional Growth


Ted Trissler, Learning Support Teacher at Montgomery, and Kass Pfender, Learning Support Teacher at York Avenue, recently completed their Level 2 Wilson Reading certifications. This process involves intensive professional development, online coursework, and the completion of supervised practicum lessons with students. Ted stated that, "Although rigorous, the certification process was well worth the efforts, as I have observed firsthand success of turning non-readers into proficient ones. Obtaining the level II certification increased my knowledge of advanced word study, which can only benefit my students." Kass agreed, noting she was grateful for the opportunity provided to her by the district and believes, "Wilson is a fabulous program and it can really save someone's life" by providing them the literacy skills with which they struggle. We are very proud of Ted and Kass! 


Megan Marnien, Vision Support Teacher, was selected for the fourth consecutive year to present at the Pennsylvania Annual Vision Conference in Harrisburg.   She will be presenting on vision therapy referrals this April. Megan shared, "I always choose topics I want to brush up on to force me to research it enough to be comfortable presenting." We are lucky to have our own resident vision expert in North Penn!

News and Notes
Welcome to Maria Stratton, Learning Support Teacher at North Wales, who recently joined the team with the retirement of Stephanie Sarris. Maria began her teaching career nine years ago at Franklin Towne Charter High School in Philadelphia. Following her tenure at Franklin Towne, she taught elementary school for the School District of Philadelphia. Maria lives in  Richboro with her husband and three children, Connor, 9, Chase, 4, and Cailyn, 2. She states that she has "been welcomed with open arms to North Penn by many people, including staff, parents, and students," and is happy to call North Wales Elementary her new home.
We also welcome Samantha Lawson, Speech Therapist at Oak Park and Inglewood Elementary, filling Lizza Buckley's position due to retirement.

Samantha lives in Blue Bell and graduated from Bloomsburg University with her masters in Speech-Language Pathology in 2012. She has worked with the adult and geriatric population, as well as children with disabilities.  Samantha is excited to continue her career in a public school setting. 


We thank Stephanie and Lizza for their many years of service to North Penn and welcome both Maria and Samantha. 
Congratulations to our staff members who have welcomed new additions to their families!
  • Baby boy Grant William, was delivered by Brynn Gustie, Learning Support Teacher at Montgomery, on November 7th.

  • Anna Tolar, Learning Support Teacher at Pennbrook, welcomed baby girl, Juliana Rose, on November 15th.

  • Mary Elizabeth, "Mazie,"joined the family of Brett Stormbaby-blocks2.jpg, Learning Support Teacher at Pennbrook, on November 25th.

  • Jesse Scheetz, Learning Support Teacher at NPHS, welcomed baby girl Makenzie Lena to his family on December 19th.

  • Baby girl, Ella Diane, arrived on December 22nd, joining the family of Amy Gerhart, Learning Support Teacher at Nash.

  • Sarah Linton, NPHS Learning Support Teacher, gave birth to baby girl Emma June on February 6th.

  • Michelle Lachman, School Psychologist for Oak Park and Inglewood, welcome baby girl Nora Lynn on February 20th.

If you see these staff members around, be sure to offer them congratulations and a cup of coffee!

Future Issues...
 "How can I get him to do work?" "Why can't I find anything to motivate her?" "What else can I possibly do?"   That's what we want to know! How have you worked with students who seem not to care? What techniques have you used to spark student interest? Tell us and you might just be featured in our next issue!
To submit a response or to be featured in "Professional Growth" or "News and Notes," please click here.

While our first issue featured contributions from special educators, we welcome all to contribute.