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The intern considered the internship at New Horizon Center to be a valuable learning experience

The intern considered the internship at New Horizon Center to be a valuable learning experience. Seeing up close and spending 15 hours every week with the students in the low-incidence population was considered to be eye-opening. It offered the intern awareness of the many existent physical and cognitive deficiencies there are, and the remarkable resources, one-on-one support, and a greatly adapted facility where these students are able to receive the help they need through different means of instruction.
Vygotsky (1978) introduced the zone of proximal development which classifies the abilities that have not yet been mastered, but are in the process of being mastered. The Zone of Proximal Development classified early functions as early seeds on the way to becoming “fruits” of actual development. Once the Zone of Proximal Development is determined, the task gets developed within the parameters of that framework through the support of scaffolding. This concept is widely applied at New Horizon Center, where most of the students are considered low-functioning students. All students are accessed when they first enter the school and a couple times throughout the school year. However, all students may place at different developmental levels and given the support needed will help them reach a level above of where they currently are.
Vygotsky (1978) argued that long before students begin attending school, they have had a previous experience with learning in their own personalized way. Likewise, regardless of their disabilities, students at New Horizon Center are being taught reading, writing, arithmetic, science, and other subjects through the implementation of Unique Curriculum for special needs. Vygotsky (1978) added that setting limitations and labeling developmental levels will not enable for actual capabilities to be discovered and will not allow children to move forward in their learning. This supports the concept used with Unique Curriculum, which allows students to escalate in levels and in material difficulty. First they are presented with what they can do on their own, then adding support to what they are not able to do through the method of scaffolding, and finally, challenging them with new tasks and materials.
Since children with disabilities have significant and distinct needs, a group of professionals must come together to appropriately serve those students (Duffy & Eaker, 2017). Most students with special needs require personalized therapies, and New Horizon Center has fulltime therapists on site, that include: physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, music therapist, art therapist, and dog therapy. Once a week every student receives personalized one-on-one therapy, as well as group therapy. Each staff member contributes with a very important set of skills to the development and ongoing support of the children with special needs (Duffy & Eaker, 2017).
Speech therapy has shown to promote language growth acceleration and reinforcement of critical academic skills (Justice, Jiang, Logan, & Schmitt, 2017). Vygotsky (1978) believed that language is one of the first frameworks that enables learning in young children, as it becomes the main tool of communication between the child and the environment. Speech therapy was one of the therapies offered most often to the students during the school week. Every student received personalized speech sessions at least twice a week. Speech and language therapists also use intervention strategies using scaffolding to facilitate complex communication practices (Camrata & Nelson, 2006). Techniques such as repeating, expanding, and asking (what, who, where, why) questions facilitates and promotes more opportunities for communication to take place (Camrata & Nelson, 2006).
Almost every student receiving speech therapy at New Horizon Center is matched with an assistive technology device to which they are compatible with. Using assistive technology devices effectively can support in meeting the multiple needs of children with disabilities and benefit them by making them independent thinkers (Tamakloe & Agbenyega, 2017). There are various benefits to incorporate speech and language devices into everyday use, such as the increase of skills done independently, and increased confidence in the individual using the device (Bowser & Reed, 2012). The use of assistive technology in the classroom fosters the opportunity to find new ways to scaffold children’s learning in building different skills (Fleer, 2010) and engagement in meaningful learning with their teachers and support staff (Tamakloe ; Agbenyega, 2017). Not only would assistive technology help inside the classroom, but also out of the classroom by allowing the children to use their assistive devices in purposeful ways; aiming to reach a level of independence that will enable them to fully function in society (Tamakloe ; Agbenyega, 2017).
Students with severe disabilities are considered not suitable to fit the universal model and have difficulty when performing tasks (Milanovic ; Markovic, 2014). Vygotsky (1978) argued that the Zone of Proximal Development facilitates for teachers and educators to know the child’s current developmental status by highlighting those functions that have not yet been developed, and those that are in the course of formation. This was observed when students were given developmental level appropriate tasks at NHC. For example, some of the higher functioning students were given four and five step tasks that gave them the opportunity to practice until they reached task mastery. When initiating new tasks, the staff supported the students in modeling and scaffolding from one step to the next. The main goal when intervening by adding scaffolding support, is to reach the goal of task achievement (Mattanah et al. 2005). Once students reached mastery between steps, another task was given, in which the level of difficulty increased and in which more was required from the students. Contingent support during tasks gives the students guidance and the possibility to continue work independently without further need of additional support (Pol, Volman, Oort, &Beishuizen, 2015).
The way educators connect and interact with students can have a direct impact on student success (Praetorious et al. 2012). New Horizon Center benefitted from workshops that provides the staff with significant information that will help as they support student instruction every day. Vygotsky (1978) believed that children have no limitations when it comes to their capabilities. He argued that children can do and learn abundantly if they are properly guided by adults. When working with children with special needs, adult’s guidance, individual attention and support is necessary to keep the students on task (Pol, Volman, Oort, ; Beishuizen, 2015). Staff Development at New Horizon Center is widely beneficial for the teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals.
Vygotsky (1978) noted the benefits of social interaction, as an increase in speech and thoughtful thinking that will offer opportunities for behavioral development. Development of social skills is an essential skill that is considered as crucial when referring to individuals with special needs; especially knowing how challenging it can be for them to develop those skills (Bossaert, Colpin, Pijil, ; Petry, 2013). Having strong connections with the community is of great benefit to New Horizon Center and its students. Creating strong ties with neighboring businesses and community leaders gives the school a sense of support and patronage. On Valentine’s Day, a neighboring group of 7th graders visited the students and joined the celebration. On St. Patrick’s Day, the nominated St. Patrick’s 2018 Day queen and her crew visited the students. Having fellowship between the community and the students at NHC is important because it can contribute to the reduction of negative stigma and the degree of diminishment in which students with disabilities are held (Arishi, Boyle & Lauchlan, 2016). Community ties can also benefit and foster social interaction opportunities and predict significant social competence in the future (Justice, Jiang, Logan, & Schmitt, 2017) especially since children with special needs have difficulty when it comes to social interaction (Bilaver, Cushing, & Cutler, 2016).
While the resources and related services offered at New Horizon Center are excellent, there is still several notable opportunities for growth. Working with students with severe disabilities can be challenging (Biggs, Gilson & Carter, 2016). The intern considered that the staff, particularly the paraprofessionals could greatly benefit from training and instruction on how to work with the low-incidence population. Vygotsky (1978) pointed out that for children, learning can happen simply from imitating adults and others surrounding them. It is important that those working with students with specials needs have continuous training and instruction that can satisfy the demands of that population (Biggs et al. 2016).
In conclusion, meeting the needs of students with disabilities is greatly accomplished through the ongoing support in the form of scaffolding (Pol, Volman, Oort, & Beishuizen, 2015). Vygotsky (1978) addressed the need for educators to do as much as they can to help children with special needs grow and develop what they are lacking of. Identifying their actual level of development and seeing what they can and cannot do independently will define the level of assistance needed (Vygotsky, 1978). Support in the form of scaffolding is believed to be productive and a beneficial intervention that fosters learning in a meaningful way, not only when it comes to learning, but also in every aspect of development (Pol, Volman, Oort, & Beishuizen, 2015).