1. Description of Our Community
Our community is centered around our school, which is a private special education facility exclusively serving students with multiple disabilities through both day and residential programs. We are located in Haddonfield, New Jersey, just a few miles east, across the Delaware River, from the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our community extends to include the families and hometowns of our students. It includes many small surrounding towns in Camden, Gloucester and Burlington Counties, where our students participate in frequent outings as well as job placements.
This area of South Jersey is both residential and commercial. Geographically it is primarily flat, with small creeks and marshes feeding into the Delaware River. While there are still some small farms and wooded areas, development and construction is ongoing. The addition of many shopping centers, industrial parks, homes, townhouses, condo and apartment complexes have resulted in very crowded traffic conditions, especially during rush hours. New construction has also included numerous nursing homes and assisted living communities to meet the needs of the growing aging population.
Since September 11, 2001, our students have been more conscious of their community and are reaching out to include other Americans in different states, particularly New York and Washington D.C.
2. Summary of Our Project
Our project investigates basic information about Pet Therapy and some authentic examples of its use in our community. Through some initial meetings students listened to and discussed various proposed topics before selecting Pet Therapy, using democratic decision making (paper ballots). Animal related topics seemed to appeal to all, crossing gender, age, experiential background and skill levels. Some of our students were already familiar with the idea of service dogs (i.e., Seeing Eye Dogs) but Pet Therapy was something new. Some students could relate personally to the sadness, depression and pain associated with emotional and physical problems which Pet Therapy can help address.
A school assembly followed by a private interview with some local representatives of Greyhound Friends, Inc. gave us a good introduction to the topic. Internet research resulted in more general background info and specifics concerning training and how Pet Therapy was used to help families, friends and workers after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. One class visited a local assisted living center for seniors, where they interviewed a resident about the special cat who lives there.
Classes kept track of information regarding their sources, which was later assembled by a student into a formal bibliography. Students enjoyed drawing pictures of pets and expressing their own thoughts and reflections following meeting the greyhounds. In developing ideas for the look of the final web site, students voted on fonts, colors, and navigation. Two students made a word search activity. Four students directly participated in creating computer graphic images and the construction of the web pages.
3. Our Computer and Internet Access
A. Percentage of students using the Internet at home:more than 50%
B. Number of workstations with Internet access in the classroom:2-3
C. Connection speed used in the classroom:dedicated connection
D. Number of years our classroom has been connected to the Internet:1
E. Additional comments concerning your computer and/or Internet access (Optional):
Our school has a small computer lab (9 stations) where students have access to the Internet during scheduled times. Some classrooms have a need for more computers in their rooms and more Internet access. Wiring for Internet access has been a gradual process, which continues in the different classroom buildings on our campus.
4. Problems We Had To Overcome
We had some general issues related to limited computers and unreliable Internet access. There was limited access to using a scanner (since we wanted some students to directly experience scanning we had to schedule special times to use it – towards the end as time and availability became concerns, staff scanned photos and drawings at home).
We were disappointed with pictures taken with the digital camera (results tended to be dark and not very clear), so traditional and/or throw-away cameras were used.
It was sometimes difficult for the teachers involved to schedule planning meetings due to other commitments and additional responsibilities outside the classroom. We also had limited physical space for large meetings with all student participants (ideally we would have liked to have met more as a large group).
As students represent a wide range of skill levels (academic, attention, memory) staff also had to make sure basic information was simply stated and reinforced through oral discussion, using pictures or concrete examples whenever possible. While some students participated independently in related writing activities, others were able to contribute their thoughts and summarized main points through individual or group dictation.
5. Our Project Sound Bite
Pet Therapy was very interesting for a class project and a lot of fun. It made you think about a whole lot of feelings. Said one student, “It was helpful to me in the mood I was in.”
6. How did your activities and research for this CyberFair Project support standards, required coursework and curriculum standards?
Our project addressed the following New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards: Cross Content Workplace Area Standard #2 All students will use information, technology, and other tools; Visual and Performing Arts Area Standards # 1.3 All students will utilize arts elements and arts media to produce artistic products and performances and #1.4 All students will demonstrate knowledge of the process of critique; Language Arts Literacy Area Standards # 3.1 All students will speak for a variety of real purposes and audiences, # 3.2 All students will listen actively in a variety of situations to information from a variety of sources, # 3.3 All students will write in clear, concise, organized language that varies in content and form for different audiences and purposes, # 3.5 All students will view, understand, and use non-textual visual information.
As our program is dedicated to provide our students with opportunities to generalize skills in real-life practical applications, this project presented them with a meaningful authentic task which was directly related to their community, and tied in with key national current events. Some of the specific skills addressed in addition to those mentioned in the formal standards included: speech and language communication, social behaviors, collaboration with students outside their own classroom, meeting and interacting with new people, using a democratic process (voting), computer skills (keyboarding, Internet searches, printing, scanning, graphic and web site creation software, saving/backups). Numerous new vocabulary terms were introduced and discussed, including the concepts of “copyright” and “bibliography” .