At the Watson Institute’s special education schools, our primary objective is to help our students achieve their goals as outlined in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). For many students, the goal is that they will progress enough to transition back to, and attend, their home school district with special education supports.
Over the summer, special education staff at the Education Center Sewickley wished a warm farewell to Natalie Menzl, a student who has been at Watson since 2009. Natalie has made considerable progress during her time at the Watson Institute, enough that her IEP team determined that she was ready to make her special education transition back to her home school district, Seneca Valley, for the 2017-2018 school year.
Natalie has a rare chromosomal disorder, Partial Trisomy 6 Syndrome, which impacts her hearing as well as her speech. During her time at Watson, Natalie learned how to use an iPad loaded with assistive apps to help her communicate with her teachers, therapists, support staff, and fellow classmates.
“She’s talking, she’s using her iPad, she’s always smiling and she loved having Ashton as her teacher,” shared Heidi Menzl, Natalie’s mother. “Watson staff had no problems getting her on the bus to get to school, whereas as previous schools that had been very difficult.”
Special Education School Prepares Students with Life Skills
Three teachers at the Watson Institute Education Center Sewickley special education school had the pleasure of progressing Natalie through their classrooms. Her most recent teacher, Ashton Appel, is proud of all of the accomplishments Natalie made and knows she will thrive in her home school district because she gained important life skills experiences at Watson.
“Natalie was very helpful. We always teased that she was my third classroom aide.” said Ashton. She also shared that some of Natalie’s favorite activities were the classes spent in the Assisted Daily Living (ADL) room in which students are taught independent living skills such as preparing meals, doing dishes, learning how to do laundry, and other necessary skills for day-to-day.
“Natalie loves to cook and try new things in the kitchen so for her last day we had a pizza party and she got to help me put the pizzas in the oven,” shared Ashton.
One of the most notable traits that each of Natalie’s teachers shared is her incredible sense of humor and her ability to maintain good spirits even through adversity. Holly Glenn-Batykefer, a special education teacher at the Watson Institute, taught Natalie several years ago and recalls how Natalie would oftentimes good-naturedly pull pranks on her.
“Natalie knows sign language and I was trying to learn so I would ask her how to sign certain things that I didn’t know. When I would use the signs she taught me, she would laugh and laugh. Finally, our classroom’s speech therapist told me Natalie was giving me the wrong signs. This became her trademark with me.” shared Holly.
Transitions for Students with Special Needs
In preparation for her transition to Seneca Valley, Natalie and her family were given the opportunity to tour the school while the students were still there before summer break so she could get a feel of the atmosphere.
“Natalie is really excited and she already made a friend during her visit! She will be going into seventh grade and her teacher even let her pick out her desk,” Heidi Menzl told us.
In addition to the social skills curriculum in which Natalie was enrolled at the Watson Institute, it was also part of her IEP to work on life skills, such as those mentioned previously which took place in the Assisted Daily Livings (ADL) room. As her IEP team made the decision to transition her back to the school district, the continuation of her life skills development was a critical component and a topic of consideration.
Seneca Valley School District runs a coffee shop program in which Natalie will participate so she can continue working on life skills such as sequencing, following instructions to complete a task, fine motor skills, and assembly.
As Natalie said goodbye to her teachers and classmates, Heidi shared her thoughts on her daughter’s time at Watson,” I just enjoyed what Watson gave to her. We felt safe and that Natalie was well taken care of at Watson.”