The Guam Department of Education (GDOE) in collaboration with Guam CEDDERS held several virtual planning meetings in the last few months with stakeholders to collect input on how the State Systemic Improvement Project (SSIP) will be adapted in response to COVID-19. Sessions were comprised of the SSIP Project Director, SSIP Principals, SSIP teacher leaders, GDOE Special Education personnel, and SSIP on-island consultants. The focus of the meetings was on how professional development will be delivered amid the COVID-19 restrictions and what supplemental resources were needed by schools. The content and format of professional development sessions were discussed. In addition, a Teacher Leader Survey was also sent out to ascertain areas that need to be targeted during professional development.
On May 1, the Guam Department of Education (GDOE) in collaboration with Guam CEDDERS held a virtual stakeholder input session on significant disproportionality with 14 GDOE personnel and members from the Guam Advisory Panel for Students with Disabilities (GAPSD) and the Guam Developmental Disabilities Council. New regulations require states, inclusive of Guam, to use a standard methodology to determine if significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity is occurring in the State and the local educational agency. An important part of the reporting process is how the State included stakeholders in determining whether or not significant disproportionality exists. There are three categories for significant disproportionality: identification, placement, and discipline.
The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is responsible for ensuring that states comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Annually, each state must have a State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR). The SPP/APR evaluates the state’s efforts to implement the requirements and purposes of Part B and Part C of the IDEA. In April, OSEP provided a clarification period so states may provide additional information or clarification to their initial report submission. Guam CEDDERS Interim Director, June De Leon provided support to Guam, the Republic of Palau (ROP), the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in submitting any required clarifications to their Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2018 SPP/APR report.
In partnership with the University of Guam (UOG) Office of Information Technology and Guam CEDDERS, Guam Department of Education (GDOE), Division of Special Education prioritized providing technical support to their speech-language pathologists in delivering teletherapy. With facilitation support from Guam CEDDERS June De Leon and Josephine Cruz, UOG’s Interim Chief Information Officer Manny Hechanova conducted five virtual sessions in April and May with the Division’s speech-language pathologists assigned to providing Extended School Year services in the summer. A total of eight Division personnel and speech-language pathologists participated in the virtual sessions. The sessions covered an array of topics related to using the Zoom and Moodle virtual platforms. Participants learned how to use the various features on virtual platforms. They also engaged in problem-solving on how to make the platforms more interactive as they deliver teletherapy.
As the much-quoted Scottish poet Robert Burns has said, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” so have the plans with Project EPICS.
The Educating Pacific Island Clinicians in Speech-Language Pathology (EPICS) Project, is a personnel preparation grant funded by the US DOE awarded to San José State University, in partnership with Guam CEDDERS. With a start date of May 2015, the goal of this five-year project is to facilitate the training of graduate-level personnel from the U.S. affiliated Pacific Basin jurisdictions in speech-language pathology to meet the critical need of certified professionals in this specialty area.
Although some challenges occurred during these past four and half years since the start of the project, the Work Plan and timeline originally mapped out for the implementation of EPICS, including activities and milestones, were, for the most part, met for the majority of the student “scholars” enrolled in the program. Over the past two years, 18 scholars were on track to complete their requirements to graduate with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology in August 2020.
And then the coronavirus pandemic hit in full force in mid-March.
Initially, coursework actually proceeded as planned. The scholars were in the midst of completing two online courses so there was no need to develop modifications in that area. What was impacted, though, was their ability to earn their practicum hours, which required face-to-face interaction under the direct supervision of a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP). An on-site visit scheduled for the end of March through the first week of April by Dr. Wendy Quach, EPICS Co-Principal Investigator, and Project Director, to facilitate final scholar advisement and project logistics was canceled as air travel was suspended. An even bigger challenge was the cancellation of the second cohort of nine scholars going to California in the Summer to complete their eight-week externship in the San José area.
After a two-week period of waiting to see how the quarantine unfolded, the following decisions were made:
- The Comprehensive Examination, a final requirement for the program scheduled for May 2, proceeded as scheduled. Scholars were able to take the examination online in their homes.
- Scholars were given additional opportunities to earn practicum hours via “Simucase,” a platform under the supervision of SJSU instructors.
- Final program completion activities including student exit interviews and completion ceremony were postponed until August 2021.
- The scholars who completed their externship during the Summer of 2019, and who meet all other graduation requirements would receive their master’s degree by August 2020.
- The scholars in Cohort 2 whose externships were canceled for this summer were given an option to earn their practicum hours this Fall on Guam or wait until Summer 2021. One scholar has opted for the first choice while the remaining eight have decided to wait till next Summer.
Project officials are in the process of formally receiving approval for a “No Cost Extension” year to complete the project. In addition, EPICS administrators met online with representatives from the CNMI Public School System and Guam Department of Education Division of Special Education to provide project updates and discuss the next steps relative to the availability of scholars and potential clinical/job placements into their respective systems.
After a challenging four-and-a-half-year grueling schedule for all involved and getting to the point of making it to the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel,” to say that project stakeholders are disappointed and saddened by this unfortunate turn of events is an understatement. However, given the global state of affairs faced by all, these steps had to be taken.
During the summer months, scholars for the most part will be working on completing their online Simucase hours and completing other requirements as needed and available online. They will also be studying for and taking the Praxis examination online, an examination required for national certification that is needed to be eligible for their nine-month Clinical Fellowship under the mentorship of a licensed speech pathologist. By the end of July, several of them will have completed all requirements and will be eligible for graduation. The remaining scholars will continue with their preparation for Praxis, if they decide to take it later, and keeping their knowledge and skills up to date in preparation for their Externship next summer.
Hopefully, no new challenges and barriers will arise to derail these plans. Stay tuned for the next update in September.
On August 13, 2020, Leah Abelon, GSAT Center Coordinator conducted a Virtual Webinar, “Creating Accessible Documents,” where 80 individuals from various agencies and the general public registered. As information is now being delivered electronically, it is essential that individuals with disabilities have access to digital information. The webinar offered tips and guides to assist service providers in creating documents that are readable to individuals with disabilities. It covered topics such as the importance of including a document title, filename, headings, lists, accessible tables and links, alternative text, and distinguishing appropriate color contrast and running the accessibility checker.
After fully engaging in an “epic marathon,” Project EPICS scholars are “quickly approaching the finish line!” Currently, midway into the planned final year of a five-year project, the “Educating Pacific Island Clinicians in Speech Pathology” project, also known as “Project EPICS,” is in “the last lap” of this amazing endurance event. Eighteen student “scholars” are entering their last few months of the project whose mission is to produce graduate-level speech language pathologists to serve and provide much-needed speech services to the children of Guam and the Pacific region. This project is funded through a U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs personnel preparation awarded to San José State University (SJSU), in partnership with Guam CEDDERS. The Spring 2020 semester is packed with activities including completing two online courses and finishing up the required number of practicum hours in school and hospital settings. In April, the scholars can opt to participate in an online “Praxis Preparation Workshop” with Dr. Kay Payne, CCC-SLP, a nationally recognized expert on Praxis prep and the author of numerous Praxis Preparation resources. Similar to the national Praxis examination for teacher certification, the Praxis test for Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) is a requirement for national certification for SLPs. Scholars have the option as to when to sit for this examination. The last SJSU program requirement for all the EPICS scholars is the Comprehensive Examination, fondly referred to as “Comps.” This is scheduled for May 2, 2020. If you may recall, the group of 18 scholars was divided into two cohorts for the purpose of completing an externship in the San José, California area at various sites in collaboration with SJSU. Nine scholars in Cohort 1 completed this externship in August 2019. The remaining nine who comprise Cohort 2 are scheduled to complete their externship this summer, ending in early August 2020. Upon this group’s return, the Project will hold a much-anticipated graduation ceremony to celebrate the incredible effort of these scholars in completing this “marathon” program. As of this writing, however, things are looking like Cohort 2’s externship plans will need to change, given the situation with the COVID 19 pandemic. And sadly, graduation may have to be postponed as well. Stay tuned for the next issue of I Tellai for the update.
In early March, a team of four embarked on flights from Guam to Kansas City, Missouri to attend the 2020 Annual Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Conference. The Guam Team consisted of Guam EHDI staff and a parent from Guam’s Positive Parents Together, Inc., the non-profit organization which provides Parent-to-Parent Support for families with children identified with a hearing loss. The Annual EHDI Conference gives participants the opportunity to learn new and relevant information related to EHDI, network with other professionals in the EHDI system, and participate in face to face meetings with each EHDI’s Project Manager and Quality Improvement Technical Assistance provider.
The four-day conference began with the Islands/Outlying Territories Meeting held on March 7. Representatives from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Palau, Hawaii, Virgin Islands, Marshall Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam presented on their respective program successes for the grant year. Tony Ronco, a parent with California Hands & Voices facilitated a discussion on website development in preparation for the new EHDI grant year. Also present at the meeting were Leticia Manning representing HRSA; Marcus Gaffney representing Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and Karl White, and Alyson Ward representing National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM).
Over the next three days, the Guam EHDI Team planned their schedules to attend plenary and topical sessions that would assist the Guam EHDI Project in meeting its goals and objectives. While at the Conference, the team met with Bethany Applebaum, HRSA Project Manager for Guam EHDI, and Alyson Ward, Quality Improvement Director at NCHAM, to discuss the progress of the Guam EHDI Project and to provide guidance on how to address data concerns for new grant objectives in light of the loss of CDC funding for territories not meeting the minimum birth rate requirements for continued grant funding.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and one of the highlights of the month is the Guam System for Assistive Technology (GSAT) Fair. This year’s theme, “Assistive Technology: Leading Our 2020 Vision,” showcased the advancements in technology and services available for the commuity. GSAT, in collaboration with the Guam Developmental Disabilities Council (GDDC) and Guam Legal Services Corporation-Disability Law Center (GLS-DLC), held the fair on March 7 at Agana Shopping Center.
The fair gave the public an opportunity to network with service providers and learn about available services and programs. There were twenty-eight vendors who participated in the fair. They included various programs from the Department of Public Health and Social Services , Guam Client Assistance Program, WestCare Pacific Islands, Office of the Public Guardian, Ross Hearing Aids, Helen Keller National Center / ICanConnect Program, Guam American Sign Language – Machanao Congregation, Guma’ Mami, Inc., Guam Department of Education Student Parent Community Engagement Project, Guam Community College Office of Accommodative Services, Autism Community Together, Department of Integrated Service for Individuals with Disabilities, Health Services of the Pacific, The Medical City, Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, Phil MD – St. Lukes Medical Center, Parents Empowering Parents, Pacific Human Resource Services Inc., and TOHGE (Transforming Guahan through Healing, Growth, & Enrichment). Vendors were given an opportunity to present brief descriptions of their agency/organization. American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters were present to assist with communication for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH). AT devices and equipment were on hand for participants to try out with assistance provided by Guam CEDDERS staff.
Maria Bontogon and Rodney Calimlim, both individuals with disabilities, were available to demonstrate the devices they use to access information and help them perform activities of daily living. The fair also showcased The Guam Community College ASL students who performed songs in sign language and the “MagicMan” show with Wally Wusstig.
Si Yu’os Ma’ase to the staff, vendors, and participants who made the fair a successful event.
Highlights from the Assistive Technology Fair