At Hillcrest Academy in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Mr. Leonardo teaches vocational skills to students preparing for the transition into adulthood in the ASD Residential Program. Several miles away at Brookside ITU in Great Barrington, Mr. Bremenkamp is encouraging students to create science projects that interest them, including this volcano project.
No matter what they teach, Hillcrest teachers are provided support and continued education so they can continue to improve in the classroom.
Every year Hillcrest sends its teachers and education administrators to the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Schools (maaps) education conference. The maaps conference presents the latest in evidence-based research and education practices to its attendees. This past conference in May, presentations included a variety of titles, including Improving Executive Function Skills & Time Management, Understanding Transgender & Non-Binary Identities, What to Do When Your “Buttons” Get Pushed, and Skillful Engagement with Crisis.
“Being able to attend maaps to connect and collaborate with other educators who have the same challenges as us, is extremely beneficial in helping us all grow as educators,” said Ms. Ferris, teacher at Highpoint.
Hillcrest Director of Education, Diane Parks believes that this is an excellent opportunity for professional development. “Every year there are new things that are being presented and some other areas that are emerging. So it’s a really good, well rounded exposure to the field of special education,” she said. “We have a lot of teachers in our program. While many of them are…earning their masters degrees, this isn’t quite the same. It’s a unique program. It’s opening their eyes to different possibilities.”
Ms. Larkin, the art teacher for Brookside ITU and ASD Residential finds a lot of value in attending the conference every year. “Recently I have learned about how the brain works, how to handle difficult conversations, LGBTQ awareness in the educational setting, and how to tell a good story to engage learners. What is also great, too, is that we share what we learn with our peers. It has always been a special event to celebrate teaching by being students ourselves for a day,” she said.
Teachers walk away with new information and strategies. Some they can implement into their classrooms right away while others are Hillcrest-wide initiatives. Other times, teachers present to their colleagues during their weekly meetings.
Hillcrest’s students come from a variety of backgrounds. Many struggle with a variety of emotional and/or developmental challenges. For some, this stems from trauma or abuse. Not only do our students need special education to meet them where they’re at, but they also need a safe, trauma-informed classroom catered to helping them heal.
Attending maaps offers opportunities for Hillcrest teachers to learn new techniques for understanding and communicating with their students so that the learning and growing can continue.
“We are lucky to be able to learn more and get our visions open and enlarged by accredited professionals doing research in areas of our interest: [to better] the lives of our students,” states Miss Bratu, teacher at the ASD Residential Program
In addition to attending maaps every year, Hillcrest provides staff development training for all its teachers.
Interested in teaching at Hillcrest? Check out our job openings. We’d love to hear from you.
Don’t forget to the check out our Recognition Week pictures.