Return to Headlines


“I think what I enjoy most about working with these kiddos, is watching that lightbulb go on for the first time,” says Comprehensive Skills Program teacher, Kristin Stacey.  



This is the moment Cougar Creek Elementary that Stacey and her teaching partner, Tanya Petrie, enjoy most about working with children in their Comprehensive Skills Program (CSP).  



CSP instruction falls under the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) umbrella of special education programs at Lakewood School District’s elementary schools. Stacey and Petrie are passionate about the work they do with students helping to set them up for success in life. They use both traditional forms of instruction and the latest technology to provide their students with the ability to demonstrate their knowledge in a manner that fits their learning abilities. 



The teachers said what makes this work rewarding for them is seeing student progress. They meet them where they are academically, socially, and emotionally.  



“It’s the little steps that make it so big. It’s challenging work, but we see growth by applying different strategies that will develop their emotional, academic and social learning” added Petrie. 



In 2020, the CSP teachers had a different type of year than the rest of the school district. They taught in person with their students starting in the fall. Attired in full personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, visors, and gowns, they worked diligently to help their students gain new skills. 



“We are always trying to show our families what we really do. It’s important that if it weren’t for the funding and support that we get through the community, these things would not be available for us,” said Petrie. 



That support includes state and federal dollars as well as the current Technology Levy. Local voters approved this Technology Levy for two years.  It expires December 21, 2022. Technology is vital for students of all abilities, but even more so for those with additional barriers. For example, children with fine motor skill challenges may find using a digital tablet to be more successful in highlighting their progress and knowledge of concepts. Others may be diagnosed with Autism which can lead to difficulty with abstract thinking or being able to communicate wants/needs. Engaging with online tools often keeps these students on task, as well as the ability to find their own voice.  



Under the IEP system, a day in the CSP classroom looks different for each student. Some students participate in academic activities using traditional paper and pencil tools. Others use a tablet, or iPad, to access the online reading curriculum adopted by the district. Some work one on one with an adult staff member, while others may learn in small groups with their classmates. iPads can also be used as a reward system to motivate students to complete academic tasks.  



In addition, the district provides a presentation station to this classroom, as well as many of the classrooms in all the other Lakewood schools. This device is known as a “Boxlight.” Prior to having a Boxlight installed, Petrie mentioned that her class wore out three previous “smart boards” due to heavy use in class. While some students experience more difficulty with physical movement, which can limit their ability to write in the traditional way, they are still able to use their hands and fingers to trace and communicate on Boxlights. 



“We have students who aren’t able to use paper and pencil, however the Boxlight, the iPad tablets, the different apps that the district has purchased for us, have been significant for the growth of our students who are on IEPs,” Petrie said.  



Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, or “talkers,” are a tool that allow students with vocal language challenges to respond with simple “yes” or “no” responses, or, with more practice, larger phrases and sentences can be formed. In addition to aiding their academic learning, using the AAC builds their confidence interacting with others inside and outside the classroom when they attend music instruction, visit the library, and participate in physical education activities. Microphones are also used for reading and speaking, they are a vital tool provided in classes. “By using the microphone, we have seen students read and speak with ease who are typically quite talkers or readers, which in turn builds confidence” says Petrie. 



“Technology has really helped our students find a new way to learn and grow. The AAC devices have really given our students a voice. We can tap into their communication world,” Stacy added. 



Teachers have used these devices for more than a year now. The school’s former Speech Language Pathologist, Caralee Wirth, recommended the AAC trial device which uses an app called TouchChat. PRC-Saltillo is a developer of speech-generating devices, online applications and innovative AAC language systems that enable individuals with complex communication disorders with the ability to express themselves. 



Many of us may forget or take for granted what is required to learn a language or how to speak. There are many intricacies to learning how to communicate. For children who are learning these things for the first time, it is important to choose the right language learning method for them, based on the student’s: 

  • Current expressive language (what they can communicate) 
  • Current receptive language (what they can understand) 
  • Cognitive abilities 
  • Physical abilities 
  • What vocabulary is most relevant to the child? 
  • What activities, people, or things are motivating them? 



Health professionals, teachers, partners, parents/guardians, and the community all work in collaboration to make sure students are well-supported and set up for success. If students need a personal AAC device to communicate at home, teachers can work with families, doctors, and their insurance to show a device is needed at home since they demonstrate success within the school setting. 


For students, using this technology and learning life skills is essential to increase independence at home, at school and within the community. In addition to purchasing technology and programs, district leaders are committed to ensuring these tools are used to the best advantage for the success of students. CSP teachers have had additional time after school to learn about research and discuss best practices. This has allowed teachers time and grace to learn and discover new strategies. Stacy and Petrie agree it is important to be on top of new research and innovations to best meet the needs of their students. They also collaborate with partners in other districts and stay connected on different professional blogs and websites.