Boston Tutoring Services speaks with Development Manager Caroline Cooke from Realizing Children’s Strengths (RCS) Learning Center.
Boston Tutoring Services: What types of special needs/disabilities does your school support?
Caroline Cooke: Realizing Children’s Strengths (RCS) Learning Center provides educational & behavioral services to children ages 3-22 with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disabilities. This includes Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS, behavioral disorders, and more.
BTS:What types of therapeutic services do you offer?
CC: RCS provides exceptional ABA services to each student for 30 hours per week. Additionally, we offer SLP, OT services on a consult based model that are applied throughout the day to all students.
BTS: In establishing your school, what were the goals/mission statement for providing student growth?
CC: RCS Learning Center is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide the highest quality of individualized behavioral and educational services for children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. We believe that every child has unique skills and we are dedicated to helping each child develop these skills and reach their full potential. RCS Learning Center is committed to creating a school wide environment that exceeds the standards for teaching students with Autism effectively. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the major treatment methodology, with an emphasis on the Verbal Behavior Model for teaching communication and language skills. Our team of expert clinicians works diligently to create individualized curriculum and teaching procedures that fit each child’s specific learning style.
BTS: What sets you apart from other schools that offer services for students with similar needs?
CC: RCS Learning Center is unique in the fact that all students are provided with a 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 staff to student ratio throughout their school day. This provides highly individualized educational & behavioral support to each student, allowing them to make progress and find success. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the major treatment methodology used here at RCS, with an emphasis on the Verbal Behavior Model for teaching communication and language skills through all of our programs outlined below.
RCS Learning Center currently employs 70 full-time and 4 part-time highly educated and well trained staff members. Our intensive staffing and supervision structure are what enable us to provide comprehensive and individualized programming to meet every student’s unique needs. All students receive direct instruction from a team of behavior therapists that rotate across students every two hours to promote generalization across instructors. Behavior therapists hold a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree and complete extensive training in ABA prior to working with our students.
Additionally each student receives direct instruction and oversight by a Special Education teacher. Our Special Education teachers hold current licenses from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and oversee groupings of 4-7 students. To ensure the highest quality of programming and services available for children with autism, every student at RCS receives oversight by a Program Manager. Program Managers have a Master’s degree and are Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA). They provide a minimum of 2 hours of consultation to each student’s case per week. RCS is also proud to have a strong partnership with Simmons College to provide our staff with the opportunity to pursue a Master’s in Behavior Analysis with classes here at RCS at a significantly reduced tuition.
Our well-qualified, hardworking staff is overseen by a highly educated and experienced team of clinical executives from partnering organizations, RCS Behavioral & Educational Consulting and Mini-Miracles Early Education & Child Care Center. These childhood development experts are all Board Certified Behavior Analysts with many years of experience and dedication to supporting students with autism. Our partnership with our sister organizations also provide ongoing support and resources to ensure our services and programs remain truly exceptional.
BTS: How does the setting of your school environment help support the students’ needs?
CC: RCS Learning Center is structurally as well as clinically designed to meet the unique needs of our students. Our setting boasts a warm and inviting environment that allows students to learn and practice skills in a variety of different environments to help promote generalization of skills from the onset of learning. Our open learning environments allow for ongoing oversight and supervision that is not disruptive to the students and therapists. Some of the different environments at RCS Learning Center include:
- In Intensive Teaching Time (ITT), students are taught skills in an environment with minimal distractions. Our ITT rooms contain no more than 4 students; however, we are able to accommodate students who require their own space as well. Skills addressed in this area are based on individual assessments and may consist of Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Verbal Behavior programming, academic instruction, Vocational Programming, self-help skills, Speech and Language programming and Occupational Therapy programming.
- Our Natural Environment Time (NET) rooms are bright, cheery, and full of toys, which are rotated frequently in order to keep our students motivated and engaged. The goal of NET is to practice skills taught in the ITT environment in a novel environment with different materials and instructors. During this time, the therapists follow the students’ motivation and provide instruction based on the items with which the student is engaging. Additionally, social skills and play skills are frequently addressed within NET.
- Group instruction is an environment where students learn within a group of students who are similar in skill level and age. During group, one lead instructor provides directions to the group while the 1:1 therapists act as shadows to each of their students. Objectives taught in the ITT environment are addressed within the group environment. Additionally, students are exposed to other activities including; arts and crafts activities, physical fitness activities, and simple recipe completion.
- RCS’ Integrated Preschool Program is located in the Mini-Miracles Daycare Center attached to RCS Learning Center. This program is open to students between the ages of 3 and 6 years old and is an extension of the Early Learner Program. The preschool/pre-K program follows the same educational philosophy as RCS Learning Center, utilizing Applied Behavior Analysis along with Verbal Behavior to help students achieve their fullest potential across all areas of development.
- Vocational skills are also addressed across multiple school environments and within the local communities for students ages 14-22 through our “Let’s Get to Work” Vocational Program. Our students perform multiple jobs around the school including: mailing and delivering letters, cleaning school environments, and sorting and restocking books in our library. Additionally, we have a variety of opportunities for students to generalize skills through volunteer and job shadowing opportunities in the community.
BTS: How has the curriculum been designed to best support the range of academic needs your students present?
CC: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the major treatment methodology, with an emphasis on the Verbal Behavior Model for teaching communication and language skills. Initial programming is based on assessment, baseline, current information, data analysis, preferences, and learning history. Ongoing evaluation of curriculum and teaching procedures occurs through direct observation, data collection and analysis, and weekly rotation meetings to ensure that all students receive the most effective programming possible. Instruction is provided across a variety of environments and therapists in order to promote generalization of skills from the school environment to home and community settings.
BTS: How do you support the family as a whole, beyond the student’s individual needs?
CC: Parents of RCS Learning Center students are encouraged to attend monthly meetings with their child’s Program Manager/ BCBA. These meetings are 2 hours in length and are scheduled at a date and time chosen by the parent and Program Manager. The focus of these meetings is to discuss the child’s progress both within the school program as well as at home and siblings are often encouraged to be a part of these meetings. This is an excellent time for parents to seek advice regarding specifics issues they may be encountering at home as well as to help create consistent expectations across the school and home environments. Parents are also invited to observe their child during various activities and/or review their child’s data and work products.
RCS firmly believes in a team approach when it comes to each child and parents, siblings and other family members are a big part of that team. We are also fortunate to have our sister company, RCS Behavioral & Educational Consulting as a partner. Through in-home services provided by RCS Consulting, we are able to be in constant contact to ensure the child is making progress both in school and at home.
RCS Learning Center is located at 6 Strathmore Road, Natick, MA 01760. Learn more about RCS on their website.