Why and how did Pace begin to pull the threads together?
In 2015, through strategic planning Pace extended its high school beyond ninth grade to serve students up to age 21. In developing services for this new group, a review of high school curricula and special education programming was conducted. The results were concerning. Nationally, 8% of students with disabilities drop out of school by age 21. However, whereas special education students make up 15.6% of the overall population, they make up 18-20% of all dropouts. Dropouts who are less likely to find jobs and earn living wages but more likely to be poor and suffer from a variety of adverse health outcomes. Replicating these results for our students was not an option.
PLAID (Positive Learning and Integrated Design) addresses the challenges and improves outcomes for students at Pace and beyond. As part of PLAID, core competencies with different instructional strategies create a tapestry leading to success for all types of learners. Every lesson incorporates academics and the soft skills necessary for students to have success in life. We believe that not teaching essential social skills in isolation and creating a framework to include them in every lesson will make a difference in kids’ futures. Students will be functionally literate in the technological, academic and social skills necessary for successful integration in the 21st century world, including adaptability, cooperation, empathy, tenacity, problem solving and self-advocacy.
In 2018, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Create Lab and West Liberty University helped integrate technology and makerspace concepts at Pace allowing us to serve as a CREATE “incubator” focusing on students with Autism and behavioral challenges. Pace staff developed and refined practices through professional development opportunities. The University of Pittsburgh’s Scaling Progress in Early Childhood (SPECS) program conducted an evaluation on the effect of Pace’s programming.
All of these efforts made it possible to pilot the PLAID model in several classrooms during our 2017/18 school year. The SPECS research team collected data and the initial results. These preliminary results indicated that the pilot classroom students had increasing rates of academic engagement and respectful behavior and decreasing rates of disruptive behavior.
This research laid the PLAID foundation and has shifted our culture from a fixed to a Growth Mindset. We believe that kids CAN, and that they will!