At schools across the country, computer-based technology is helping, encouraging, and empowering students with special needs. This month we share ideas from six outstanding special educators, each of whom has been honored either as a state winner in the IBM/ Technology & Learning Teacher of the Year program or as a recipient (along with other team members ) of one of Apple Computer's Crossroads Education Grants.
At Junior High School 47 School for the Deaf in New York City, Susan Abdulezer, graphic arts teacher, has developed a work-study program so popular that students fill out applications, put their names on a waiting list, and sit through an interview just for a chance to enroll. The student-run business, known as Fingerprints Press, produces sign language prod -ucts, greeting cards, T-shirts, personalized stationery, and buttons for sale at school and in the outside community. Student staff members (ages 16 through 20) use powerful computers for everything from generating original graphic designs and camera-ready artwork to keeping track of inventory, customers, sales, and expenses.
When Fingerprints Press started two years ago, Abdulezer and her students produced 50 Chanukah cards, expecting to sell only half. Instead, all 50 were snatched up in less than an hour. Within a few months they had sold thousands of cards, a gross of T-shirts, and dozens of sign language buttons. With the recent addition of four Macintosh computers, a scanner, and
a laser printer (all obtained through a Crossroads Grant), business continues to grow. In fact, the students expect enough profits this year to be able purchase a high-end Quadra.
When listening to stories about Fingerprints Press's business achievements, it's easy to forget that the staff members are profoundly heating-impaired, and that a number of them have learning and physical disabilities as well. The Press has provided a way for them to achieve success, to overcome their inability to communicate by sound or voice, and to lessen self-consciousness about low test scores. Working cooperatively to create professional-quality products, meet deadlines, fill orders, and run the business, students have learned a lot about cooperation and negotiation. They have also gained valuable vocational and entrepreneurial skills that will help them obtain jobs in the outside world.
At the Beacon Day Treatment Program in Inkster, Michigan, students who've been unsuccessful at regular public schools because of severe emotional problems get a second chance. Many of the kids entering the Beacon program are withdrawn, preferring not to interact with other students or teachers; others have severe acting-out problems and find it difficult to follow rules. However, when these youngsters are placed in a computer literacy course taught by technology coordi -nator Mary McGill, they quickly learn that school is not the enemy.
McGill, a state winner of the IBM/ Technology & Learning Teacher of the Year program, has had great success with her "Multi-Me" computer unit, a project that has high school and junior high students creating multimedia autobiographie s. MeGill explains the reasons for her approach: "These kids have mostly experienced school as failures. Very few of them have had any success, either academically or behaviorally. The Multi-Me project allows them to communicate, write, and draw without feeling they are going to fail." It also enables them to focus on themselves their own interests, backgrounds, and strengths--in a non-threatening manner that builds self-esteem.
During the 1991-92 school year, McGill tried Multi-Me with three classes of students ranging in age from ten to 20. To get kids started, McGill displayed hypermedia examples she had created, and encouraged students to begin thinking about their own interests and backgrounds. Each participant was required to work out a plan on paper before going to the computer. …