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Greenport, NY: Elem school adds autism support system

Apr 26, 2023, Suffolk Times: Greenport elementary school introduces new program to support students on the autism spectrum

Greenport Elementary School students with autism spectrum disorder will no longer have to leave the district to receive needed services thanks to a new program.

At the beginning of this academic year, the school established a classroom dedicated to students on the spectrum.

Special education teacher Meagan Haviland and her team of two aides are in that classroom every day to work with students in the program….

To build and facilitate the program, the district hired a behavior specialist from Helping Hands Family, an autism services provider with locations in East Northport, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The organization offers applied behavior analysis therapy, an approach designed to help children on the autism spectrum develop their social and emotional skills. …

In addition to the on-site behavior specialist, Ms. Haviland works closely with occupational, physical and speech therapists.

The structure of the class is unique, in that the students have only one or two traditional lessons each day, Ms. Haviland said.

Typically, the class convenes in the morning and again at the end of the day, and students pursue activities based in either science or English language arts. During the time in between, students work in a center-based program that includes one-on-one instruction with the aides and Ms. Haviland. During that one-on-one instruction, students have the option to work with an aide playing academic-based puzzles or games meant to develop fine motor skills.

They can also take advantage of an independent workstation, an individual desk where students can focus on an activity like handwriting. They rotate every 15 to 20 minutes, which allows Ms. Haviland to have time with each student and observe and evaluate their progress….

“There aren’t many [schools] out there on eastern Long Island [that offer an autism program,]” she said, “so knowing that and knowing that we had students that would benefit from being here in their home school district, being with their families, their peers, their friends, that’s why we decided to form this autism classroom.”

Mr. Tsaveras and Ms. Artukmac began talking about starting the program in 2021, but needed to find and train the right staff, identify the right support agencies and ensure that an appropriate classroom was ready for students before launching it this past September. And as the program moves ahead in its first year, the district continues to look for opportunities to improve it.

“We’re still growing the program, we’re still adding pieces as we go along,” he said. “As we see need, we’ll go out and get something if we feel that it’s going to benefit our students … we’re always trying to find ways to improve and make our program even better.”

Greenport Elementary School assistant director for special education Ozlem Artukmac (from left), special education teacher Meagan Haviland and special education director and Greenport Elementary School Principal Joseph Tsaveras. (Credit: Melissa Azofeifa)

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