Over 1,100 people from around the United States and internationally participated in the 2019 Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) Conference in Washington D.C. from November 17th to November 21st, 2019. The theme, “Leading Change Together,” focused on how people with and without disabilities come together to celebrate the many ways to lead change as an organization that works with diverse communities and people through research, practices, and advocacy that impacts a broad spectrum of disabilities. The extensive pool of resources and knowledge in one setting ignited interesting discussions and generated ideas on how to implement new program services as well as to enhance existing services to better serve individuals with disabilities and their families.
During the conference, AUCD also hosted a meeting with Julie Hocker, Administration on Disabilities Commissioner, who provided insights on the administration’s initiatives: increasing life expectancy of individuals with disabilities, health education, healthcare, and post-secondary transition services.
The AUCD is a membership organization that supports and promotes a national network of university-based interdisciplinary programs. Network members consist of 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) receiving core funding from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD); 43 Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) Programs receiving core funding from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB); 15 Intellectual and Developmental Disability Research Centers (IDDRC), receiving core funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Development (NICHD). These programs serve and are located in every U.S. state and territory and are all part of universities or medical centers. They serve as a bridge between the university and the community, bringing together the resources of both to achieve meaningful change.
The “Hafa Adai spirit” and gracious welcome from Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas and his wife, Mrs. Kathy San Nicolas, could be felt in our nation’s capital as CEDDERS Interim Director June De Leon and CEDDERS Associate Director Michelle Aguigui visited the Congressman in his office in Washington D.C. during the AUCD Hill visits on November 21th. Surrounded by the classical ambiance of the “Tunnel Restaurant,” the afternoon was filled with networking and educating our Congressman on topics that were discussed during the 2019 AUCD Annual Conference, such as increasing life expectancy of individuals with disabilities, improving healthcare, and post-secondary education transition services. The Congressman also shared the various initiatives that he is working on to increase services for individuals with disabilities residing on Guam.
The island value of living in a spirit of togetherness and belonging was obvious at the Pacific State Systemic Improvement Plan (SSIP) Collaborative, “Our Pacific Journey for Improvement,” as the six Pacific entities convened to focus on improving educational results of all students with disabilities in the Pacific. Not even the threat of a storm could dampen the spirit of community that was nurtured throughout the week-long activities. The event was held from October 7-10 at the Westin Resort Guam and from October 11-12 at the Guam Department of Education (GDOE) Main Building.
The collaborative was hosted by GDOE with support from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The six participating Pacific entities were American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Guam, Republic of Palau, and Republic of the Marshall Islands. Each entity sent teams comprised of entity-level general and special education administrators and specialists; school-level principals; general and special education teachers; coaches/mentors; and parents of students with disabilities to participate in the convening.
The convening engagement activities were facilitated by technical assistance providers from four National Centers, the Regional Educational Laboratory-Pacific (REL-Pacific), and Guam CEDDERS. The facilitators included:
•Sheryl Lazarus and Maureen Hawes from the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO);
•Cesar D’Agord with virtual support from Kathleen Pfannenstiel from the National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI);
•Amy Peterson from the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII);
•Sarah Sayko and Carol Dissen from the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL);
•June De Leon and Josephine Cruz from Guam CEDDERS, with support from consultants Nieves Flores and June Quitugua; and
•Christina Tydeman, Meagan Taylor, and Dale Lewis from the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Pacific.
The overall goal of the collaborative was to improve educational results of all students with disabilities in the Pacific entities by focusing on each entity’s capacity to increase the reading achievement of students with disabilities within a multi-tiered system of supports. In doing this, the resulting outcomes of the collaborative were an enhanced understanding of the following: assessment systems, infrastructure systems to sustain and scale-up, sustainable job-embedded professional development, sustainable coaching supports, and increased engagement of key stakeholders, in particular parents of students with disabilities.
The regional event was years in the making and resulted in increased collaboration and partnerships across the Pacific region. The learning and partnerships made as result of the Pacific SSIP Collaborative will surely be enduring and a hallmark of the persistent Pacific spirit.
Guam Department of Education (GDOE), in partnership with Guam CEDDERS, University of Southern California University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (USC UCEDD), and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), prioritized building capacity of GDOE personnel to identify and assess young and school age children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Since April 2016, Irina Zamora, Psy.D., from USC-CHLA, facilitated the assessment training series for the development of GDOE Cohorts 1 & 2 comprised of 17 early intervention and special education personnel representing an interdisciplinary team of early interventionists, speech pathologists, school psychologists, social workers, and consulting resource teachers-technical assistance. The training series included on-site and off-site consultation to ensure competencies in administering, scoring, and diagnosing children with ASD using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd Edition (ADOS-2), which is considered the gold standard for observational assessment of ASD.
During school year 2018-2019, GDOE committed to developing another interdisciplinary team, or Cohort #3, to complete the ASD assessment training. With GDOE Cohorts 1 & 2 serving as coaches, Dr. Zamora facilitated the on-site and off-site consultation for Cohort #3 members with the October 1-4 on-site visit to Guam concluding the training series with the seven Cohort #3 members taking the Western Psychological Services (WPS) ADOS-2 certification examination. The individually completed examination booklets were submitted to WPS for scoring and certification.
In conjunction with Dr. Zamora’s October on-site visit to Guam, Dr. Zamora conducted technical assistance and training visits to Pohnpei, Kosrae, and Palau from September 16-28. During her visit to Guam’s neighboring islands, Dr. Zamora conducted classroom observations, home visits, and workshops for parents and staff on the identification and evidence-based strategies for children with ASD.
Through funding from the Republic of Palau (ROP) Special Education Program, Guam CEDDERS June De Leon and consultant Donna McNear conducted a two-day technical assistance visit to Pelelui Elementary in ROP on November 5 and 6. The visit supported ROP in its efforts to improve programs and services for students with visual impairments. The visit included classroom observations and training for school personnel and parents on community supports for improving educational services for students with visual impairments. The visit also included individual meetings with the parents, teachers, and principal of the students with visual impairments enrolled at Pelelui Elementary. The meetings were an opportunity to learn from the parents about priorities for their children and how the school can support their priorities.
On September 30, the University of Guam (UOG) recognized the greatest achievements of Heidi San Nicolas, Ph.D. After devoting more than three decades to Guam’s island community serving within the Guam Department of Education and University of Guam, Dr. San Nicolas retired from government service. Of her numerous accomplishments, most notably, Dr. San Nicolas served as the founding Director of the University of Guam Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (Guam CEDDERS, formerly known as the Guam University Affiliated Program). She led this outreach unit of the University from a satellite University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) program of the University of Hawaii to full UCEDD funding in 1995 to the University of Guam through the Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights and Assistance Act from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Through her leadership, Dr. San Nicolas leveraged funding in excess of $146,000,000 through dozens of federal grants and local/regional contracts and work requests to strengthen critical partnerships for improving the quality of programs and services for individuals with disabilities and their families. Dr. San Nicolas developed and nurtured Guam CEDDERS into a dynamic organization to continue its commitment to building bridges with partners to create strong linkages for crucial programs and services to support the overall quality of life of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families on Guam and throughout the Pacific region.
On November 25, the UOG Board of Regents passed Resolution 19-43 awarding Dr. San Nicolas Emeritus Professor and Emeritus Director status in recognition of her academic and outreach services at UOG.
Si Yu’os Ma’ase Dr. San Nicolas for your leadership and outstanding service as one of the pioneers in the field of disabilities serving Guam and the Pacific.