LEARNING SPECIALIST CREATES SENSE OF SCHOOL ONLINE
When Claudia Tapia was in high school, she took on a role that ended up shaping her career.
She was a peer facilitator in a special education classroom. It was there that she discovered her love for working with kids with special needs.
She went on to college at the University of Georgia, where she got her degree in special education and teaching.
Tapia has taught at Lake Oswego High School as a Pathways learning specialist for four years now. Pathways is a special education program at the high school.
“Pathways is an awesome program,” she said, boasting about the school’s commitment to inclusivity and expressing her gratefulness for the aids who help build rapport with students.
“My favorite part of my job is definitely working with the kids, hanging out with the kids.” She loves to see the material click for her students, and loves seeing their desire to come to class grow.
When the pandemic closed schools for in-person learning last spring, it was jarring for Tapia to have to move instruction online.
“She has an incredibly heavy load to carry in the best of circumstances, but in the world of Comprehensive Distance Learning, it becomes almost impossible,” said Becky Owens, a parent of a Pathways student.
“Especially with special needs kids, a majority of our job is hands-on, in-person life skills,” Tapia said. “(But) we’ve made the best of it.”
She said she learned that virtual instruction works best when she works off the strengths of each student. Making it lively and taking frequent breaks helps, too, as does a sense of routine, which she said is key.
“We don’t realize how much we love routine until we don’t have it,” she said. So Tapia worked to create new routines in the virtual setting.
“Her class is made up of almost a dozen students with a wide variety of developmental delays, learning differences and behavioral challenges. She and her team of aides have calmly and professionally created a sense of routine for students who really need it in order to learn,” Owens said.
Tapia said the start to distance learning wasn’t perfect, but she and her team have been able to fine-tune it over time.
“I’m most proud of creating a sense of school online,” Tapia said.
Before the transition to distance learning, Tapia provided students specialized instruction in their core English and math classes, and they took general education classes with general education peers for other subjects such as social studies and ceramics.
“Whatever class that we see fit for them,” Tapia said. Now online, her Pathways students are still going into general ed virtual classrooms, but providing support is trickier.
“The one struggle that we have (is) the kids need a lot of support,” Tapia said. The support that she or an aide would be able to give now has to be provided by a caregiver at home, and Tapia has to train the caregiver in that support.
“The biggest hurdle is how to encompass everything that we do at the school into the virtual life,” she said, noting that students don’t get to communicate with their friends in the same way.
This fall, state guidelines allowed for Tapia to teach on site at LOHS for limited in-person instruction, supplemental instruction done in school buildings during distance learning. “It felt a little apocalyptic coming back into the school,” Tapia said.
But, she said she’s since gotten used to the weirdness of COVID-19 health precautions inside school, and she’s seen improvements by the students who take part in limited in-person instruction.
“I am so appreciative of Ms. Tapia and her team for always being open to suggestions as well as adjusting things in order to make it the best situation possible for each student,” Owens said. “It is less than ideal, but I’m grateful that she is working tirelessly for her students.”