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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Grant will boost services to autistic students
Specialized training provided for all school personnel
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Photo by Stephanie Cook: Franklin County Special Education Director Gwen Adkins and autism specialist Catherine English discuss a grant from the VCU Autism Center for Excellence to improve support services for children with autism in Franklin County schools.

Monday, March 17, 2014

By STEPHANIE COOK - Special to the News-Post

Franklin County public schools has received a grant that will provide teacher training and support services for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The grant from the Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence seeks to improve services at every level for students with ASD and similar educational needs.

The program will provide targeted and in-depth training to all school personnel, an important tool for the future of the special education department, according to autism specialist Catherine English.

"Additional training for all the staff means teachers, custodians, administrators, nurses, bus drivers, everyone who will come into contact with children, will gain the tools necessary to provide for the needs of ASD students," said English. "At the same time, we will be collecting and sharing data so that all students can benefit and be successful."

Gwen Adkins, director of special education, said the grant will fill a need in county schools.

"There are 80 students in our county who have an ASD educational diagnosis and even more who have been diagnosed with autism, but require little to no accommodations for educational purposes," she said. "While Franklin County has been providing training in the area of ASD over the years, as times change, so does technology and training," Adkins said. "We will now have a collaborative and cohesive training program, which we hope to extend to parents and the community."

This is the second phase of the grant, and the second time Franklin County has applied.

"We learned a lot from the first application process and were able to adjust our approach to the effect that, out of a total of 21 school divisions that applied, Franklin County public schools submitted an application that ranked among the top 5 percent of the 21 received," said Adkins.

A technical assistance associate, Staci Carr, has been assigned to Franklin County, and upon her arrival on March 14, she will meet with Adkins and the county's Autism Services Improvement Team (ASIT). The team will perform a self-assessment and develop a strategy on how to best support the needs specific to Franklin County. ASIT will meet monthly to oversee the progress of the plan and will keep the school board, superintendent and Adkins informed of the positive aspects of the plan and its progress.

One area that Adkins hopes to focus on is Franklin County's Early Childhood Special Education Program, which works with special needs children as young as 2 years old.

"The earlier you begin to work with children who have special needs, the better their chances of success in the long term," said Adkins.

Adkins and English encourage parents and the community to visit for information and training on working with ASD children.

"Franklin County public schools is very excited about this phenomenal opportunity to participate in the VCU-ACE cohort and working with the VCU ACE Technical Assistance team of experts who will provide consistency with training, mentoring, division-wide coaching, administrative knowledge and support, collaborative experiences with school personnel, family members, members of the community and community agencies, fidelity of implementation of evidence-based practices and, most importantly, working with our students with Autism Spectrum Disorder," said Adkins.

The timing of the grant is especially helpful for the county because next year teacher aides who work with ASD students will be required to complete training in student behavioral management.

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