California Educator

March 2013

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OFILE P > Once a week, Ren the therapy dog visits April Giles' class of ED students, who show a compassionate side of their personality to the pooch they aren't ready to share with people. In most schools, ED stands for "emotionally disturbed." To Giles, who teaches at Grass Valley's Lyman Gilmore School, ED stands for "emotional deficits," which can be corrected with the right combination of patience, encouragement and a pooch. "Ren snuggles with students and helps them with reading," explains Giles, Nevada County Special Education Group. In her classroom of fifth- through eighth-graders, small miracles occur daily among kids most educators gave up on. With Giles' support, and collaboration with mental health professionals, community agencies and others, many of her students enroll in mainstream classes and participate in after-school activities such as sports and school dances. Giles provides structure and predictability for students whose lives are unpredictable. Her positive outlook in teaching ED students — along with excellent results in helping them overcome problems — earned Giles the 2009 Nevada County Teacher of the Year title. BY SHERRY POSNICK-GOODWIN PHOTOS BY SCOTT BUSCHMAN 28 California Educator March 2013 Joy, enthusiasm and a pooch fill 'emotional deficits' Ren relaxes while April Giles reads to students. In Giles' words: I believe that my students…. are beautiful inside. I figure out what is beautiful about my students inside and foster it. It's what drives me. But it can be hard when there is a lot of cussing, fighting and negative behavior. Progress can be slow. Unfortunately, some colleagues are afraid of my students and ask why they are here. Well, if they are isolated, they will never learn socially appropriate behavior and how to get along with their peers. Some have ADHD or are on the autism spectrum, but a person is an individual, not a disease or a condition. I treat every day… like a clean slate. It's the most powerful gift, I tell my students. One of the best things about my job… is when a student can express himself to another teacher so there's a moment of understanding. When a student says "I have a hard time focusing my mind, so I need to chew gum" or "I need a fidget object in my hands to help me pay attention." That's a thing of beauty. It shows they learned to express themselves in an appropriate way. It's wonderful when they learn to use their words. My best advice for working with ED students… is understanding we are all in a different place when it comes to social skills used to navigate our environment. The Love and Logic parenting book series by Foster Cline and Jim Fay helped me look at behavior as a learning tool for life. Behavior is an alternate form of expression. I tell parents the price tag for lessons learned now is far less than the cost in the future. One of my success stories… is a boy who was on the spectrum and constantly blurting things out. He turned out to be technologically advanced and now helps me with my computer and iPads my classroom recently received. He's a huge help. I feel so lucky… because I am making a difference. In my heart of hearts, I believe I did not choose to work with these wonderful spirits. Instead, they chose me. They've changed my life forever in wonderful ways.

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