Rebecca Listener Interview

I was recently interviewed on The Rebecca Listener a new podcast from The Rebecca School produced by Chris Hernandez, the school’s media director, to offer parents, providers, and anyone interested with insight into the work happening at the school.

The podcast is available on all of your favorite platforms and currently has three episodes, with new ones coming out every week (I think!)

Check out myself and my colleague Courtney Latter discussing the range of workshops at the Rebecca School and how we navigate all the different developmental levels and ages while keeping the poets in engaged in learning on episode three “Poetry Groups”

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Holiday Cookie Poems

Since my first year running poetry workshops at Rebecca School, I've partnered with Cafe Rebecca “a gluten-free café located within the Rebecca School. Through the Café Rebecca program, our Transitions students (ages 15-21) bake, deliver, advertise and run all aspects of a café.  Our student bakers create everything from the logo to the cupcakes.  Everything made in Café Rebecca is gluten-free and nut-free, with vegan options as well.  Café Rebecca’s goal for serving food to the school community is to create a shared experience surrounding homemade food that all students and staff members can enjoy together, taking into consideration all food allergies.” [1]

Our partnership happens around the holidays and involves the workshops creating a poem to go on the Café’s holiday cookie tags as part of the marketing for the  holiday cookie sale. Every year the café packages and sells hundreds of cookies to families, students, and staff.  These packages come with signature tags, one side branding the café and the other with a signature poem.

Pile of three flavored cookies, chocolate, sugar, and oatmeal on a plastic wrapped plate. On top of the plate are two festive tags. One tag shows the front with the Cafe Rebecca logo, the other tag shows the back with the Rebecca School Poetry Workshop’s poem.

Pile of three flavored cookies, chocolate, sugar, and oatmeal on a plastic wrapped plate. On top of the plate are two festive tags. One tag shows the front with the Cafe Rebecca logo, the other tag shows the back with the Rebecca School Poetry Workshop’s poem.

Not every workshop takes on this project. It involves some pretty intense effort: writing on theme, working with space restrictions, and meeting a deadline. Of the eleven workshops I run at the Rebecca School, this year only two workshops took on the project.

So how do we get going on all this work?

I like to start the process right after thanksgiving to ensure that the workshops have a couple of weeks to progress toward the deadline. The deadline is usually the Friday before the winter break, so for example, this year’s 2018 deadline fell on Dec. 14th.

Since the tags are small, we get about sixteen words worth of space. To help the poets visualize this I’ll bring in a sample of the tags, either the blank slate the café is using, an example from the previous year, or both. I’ll also draw sixteen blank spaces up on the white board to give them a further visual for our word count. I often set this up in a standard 4x4 grid, but leave it free for the poets to move around as the piece demands.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid.

For the actual writing portion, I give every poet note cards to write one word. Sometimes each poet will get two or three cards (depends on the workshop size), with the expectation that each card will only have one word each on it. I like doing this because it further reinforces the idea that we, as a workshop, don’t have a ton of space to play with. It also ensures that everyone is putting their own ideas down. Part of the fun of this project is seeing what words or phrases each poet associates with “The Holidays” then working together to fit these disparate ideas into a cohesive poem. After every poet is finished writing their word(s) we tape them up in the blank spots on the board.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid. On these blank lines now are notecards with individual words and some hand written words

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid. On these blank lines now are notecards with individual words and some hand written words

After taping them up we can really get down to editing and creating working drafts. Sometimes the word count makes it so that we have extra space to write in new words, other times we’re exactly at sixteen and have to take some poetic license. The taped note cards allow the editing process to be visceral. Poets can go to the board, take words off, move them around and do what they need to show their vision for the poem. They can, quite literally, break the lines!

School white board with note cards and handwritten words still in that four by four structure but now without the guiding blank lines. The board is broken up with a column to denote which part of the draft the workshop is going to be working on.

School white board with note cards and handwritten words still in that four by four structure but now without the guiding blank lines. The board is broken up with a column to denote which part of the draft the workshop is going to be working on.

 Reflecting a bit more about this partnership, I realize that it informed the growth of my workshops and especially the Sensorimotor Poetry Workshops. This writing and editing technique, based around the social-emotional skills and the necessity of structure to a poem, forms the literacy back bone of that Sensorimotor modality.

This partnership was also the first opportunity I had to showcase the writing that the workshops were doing in the school. Being offered that opportunity when I was still running and managing these groups on top of my Teaching Assistant responsibilities was incredibly confidence boosting. It’s really touching and difficult to word how special it feels to have someone recognize and want to promote the work you’re doing. And, beyond my facilitator ego, to have the school community recognize the work of these poets is equally touching.

Big piece of butcher paper taped to a window. The four by four grid of lines is back with words handwritten in each. Along with these words there are now editing marks such as Xs, arrows, and circles, to denote where parts of the poem are being moved around to or potential placement ideas for words in the poem.

Big piece of butcher paper taped to a window. The four by four grid of lines is back with words handwritten in each. Along with these words there are now editing marks such as Xs, arrows, and circles, to denote where parts of the poem are being moved around to or potential placement ideas for words in the poem.

This long standing partnership is one of my favorite holiday traditions... and eating cookies at the end of it certainly adds to the spirit!

Sources

  1. https://www.rebeccaschool.org/cafe-rebecca/

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ICDL 2018

The 2018 International DIRFloortime Conference took place in Rockville,Maryland this year. It’s organized by the International Council on Development and Learning or ICDL. I went down with a contingent of Rebecca School therapists, teachers, and administrators to present with two colleagues of mine on a poetry workshop we facilitate. The conference was a two day event (with a third per-conference day for the ICDL training leaders) spanning Veteran’s Day weekend.

Jeff Guenzel a middle aged white male with professionally dressed addresses an audience from behind a podium. In the foreground is a table with a conference flyer and in the background, behind Guenzel, is the ICDL logo on a power point screen. Around Guenzel can be seen equipment such as projector, speakers, lights. The walls of the hotel lobby are yellow and the floor has a navy and yellow rug to match.

Jeff Guenzel a middle aged white male with professionally dressed addresses an audience from behind a podium. In the foreground is a table with a conference flyer and in the background, behind Guenzel, is the ICDL logo on a power point screen. Around Guenzel can be seen equipment such as projector, speakers, lights. The walls of the hotel lobby are yellow and the floor has a navy and yellow rug to match.

After the welcome, the first Keynote started up: Alicia F. Lieberman’s “Treating Trauma in Young Children: The Gifts and Challenges of Speaking the Unspeakable” While an admittedly heavy topic to start the day with, it was eye and mind opening, Lieberman was a true well of knowledge. From quoting academia to quoting graffiti, or an “anonymous philosopher” as she termed it, Lieberman took the overwhelming challenge of working with youth who have experienced trauma and gave the audience both inspiration and actionable advice to help their clients, students, and (in my case) poets.

Beyond the clinical applications of her work, I also noticed that she branded each of her slides with her contact info and institute name. I though this was an incredibly smooth move, making it harder for someone to republish without credit and also easier for her to be contacted, something I’ll be sure to do for future presentations of my own!

Black and white photo. Alicia F. Lieberman, a senior woman, addresses a large crowd of people from behind a podium. Behind and around Lieberman conference equipment can be seen including a large presentations screen, projector, speakers, and a banner with logo draped over the podium itself.

Black and white photo. Alicia F. Lieberman, a senior woman, addresses a large crowd of people from behind a podium. Behind and around Lieberman conference equipment can be seen including a large presentations screen, projector, speakers, and a banner with logo draped over the podium itself.

Lieberman’s talk on Trauma would mark the start of theme throughout the conference as many of the breakout sessions happening the next day would also showcase work and address strategies for working with youth who have experienced trauma.

The second keynote of the day was Dr. Stephen Shore. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Shore present at a couple different conferences, but every time I do I’m impressed by his passion, advocacy, and commitment. His 3 A’s (in the photo below) are important tenets to keep in mind as a professional in this field.

Large presentation screen with a black curtain skirt on the bottom. On the top in Green is “ The 3 A’s of Autism” below is a stack of three words showing each concept as a foundation for the other. From the bottom up in red “Awareness” in yellow “Acceptance” and in light blue “Appreciation”:

Large presentation screen with a black curtain skirt on the bottom. On the top in Green is “ The 3 A’s of Autism” below is a stack of three words showing each concept as a foundation for the other. From the bottom up in red “Awareness” in yellow “Acceptance” and in light blue “Appreciation”:

After the two keynotes, there was a break for lunch and then we went right into the plenary sessions. It felt a little intense to be in the same space hearing presentations back to back. I felt pretty antsy at moments and had to take standing and walking breaks. I wish that there was more to interact with on this day, like a small vendor area or designated networking space. Without that kind of diversity of programming the day not only felt long, but felt more like professional development than a conference.

That said, the plenary sessions were great! Zachary Kandler a Nordoff-Robbins trained music therapist brought the house down with “Finding Flow in Music: A Case Study of Developmental and Emotional Transformation” The session highlighted his work with one specific client from their first meeting to the present and it was a especially compelling watching the narrative of their sessions unfold. The case video of the two of them playing, writing, and performing together also brought a bunch of great energy into the space!

Zachary Kandler, a professionally dressed, young white man addresses a large audience from behind a podium. Behind and around Kandler there is presentation equipment such as speakers, projector, and large presentation screens. On the screen behind Kandler can be read “Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy” with black and white images of the two men (a bit difficult to distinguish from the photo). All of this is taking place in a hotel ballroom with navy and yellow rug and yellow wall.

Zachary Kandler, a professionally dressed, young white man addresses a large audience from behind a podium. Behind and around Kandler there is presentation equipment such as speakers, projector, and large presentation screens. On the screen behind Kandler can be read “Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy” with black and white images of the two men (a bit difficult to distinguish from the photo). All of this is taking place in a hotel ballroom with navy and yellow rug and yellow wall.

Following Kandler’s rousing presentation on Flow was “Critical Core: Role-Playing Games and the Future of Social-Skills Enrichment” presented by Virginia Spielmann, Adam Davis, and Adam Johns. This was a cool exploration of Critical Core, “a therapeutic tool for kids 9+ in the form of a fantasy role-playing game. Developed by parents, therapists, and educators, it's an amazing new skill building tool that can be used at home or in the clinic. “ [1]

 It’s tricky having the last session of the day, but I was impressed with the group, especially the simple movement activity they used to start! They had us imagine blowing up a balloon, holding the balloon, then letting out air in the balloon by making all the silly, squeaky, farty, sounds that involves. In doing so, Adam Davis, who led the activity, brought it back to his own feelings and anxieties presenting before an audience and how now that we had all made these fun noises together we were able to alleviate that. Pretty pro-move!

Gaming would prove another small theme throughout the conference with two Saturday breakout sessions dedicated to it as well.

Large presentation screen with black, curtain skirt. On top of the screen in large white lettering “Challenge the Status Quo” Under that is an image of a fantasy, warrior character facing a large dragon-like monster emerging from a body of water. In the bottom right is the C logo for Critical Core.

Large presentation screen with black, curtain skirt. On top of the screen in large white lettering “Challenge the Status Quo” Under that is an image of a fantasy, warrior character facing a large dragon-like monster emerging from a body of water. In the bottom right is the C logo for Critical Core.

My presentation was on the second day of the conference. I got to the hotel a little bit later, taking an easy morning out of the Air BnB I shared with colleauges from Rebecca School which was about 40 minutes away in DC.

I was glad I made it in time to see “DIRFloortime Case Studies: The Clinical Experience at Floortime Thailand” by Kingkaew Pajareya, MD or “Dr.K” as she referred to herself. It was fascinating seeing the way this work takes form on a global scale.  While Dr K.. was present to answer questions and guide the session, she also filmed herself presenting and had the video over dubbed by a colleague in English as a way to overcome the language barrier an hour long presentation in English presented. I thought was pretty unique approach!

After lunch I took the stage with Colleen Gabbert and Courtney Latter for “(Move)ment; The Poetics of Purposeful Action and Commnication” a presentation on the interdisciplinary approach the three of us bring to a poetry workshop at the Rebecca School. This was my second time presenting with Gabbert and Latter and it’s always such a treat to share the stage with these two brilliant clinicians!

From left to right: Colleen Gabbert, young white woman. Donnie Welch young white man. Courtney Latter young white woman. All dressed professionally. The three are posing in front of their title slide on a large presentation screen with a black, curtain skirt. Behind them can be seen a speaker and light as well as the navy-yellow rug and yellow wall of the hotel ballroom.

From left to right: Colleen Gabbert, young white woman. Donnie Welch young white man. Courtney Latter young white woman. All dressed professionally. The three are posing in front of their title slide on a large presentation screen with a black, curtain skirt. Behind them can be seen a speaker and light as well as the navy-yellow rug and yellow wall of the hotel ballroom.

The presentation went really well! And following it I took some time to network and follow up with attendees before popping into “Think Before you Speak: Supporting Pre-Linguistic Development in Individual with ASD” to support Latter and my other colleagues from the Rebecca School Speech Department.

The final session of the day led me to colleague Christopher Hernandez’s “LevelUpTime: An Interactive View of the future of Floortime through Videography, Coding, and Design” As Chris is also a close friend of mine, I know that this was his first presentation and despite his nerves he absolutely crushed it! The presentation showcases the first year and amazing growth of a game design program he developed and runs at the Rebecca School, “LevelUp Time™ EDU is a comprehensive science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics program designed for children with neurodevelopmental delays, including Autism, using the DIR Floortime teaching method. The purpose of the program is to teach children with Autism that technology can be used for so much more than "screen time" and to open up a new world of career possibilities in their future.” [2] To learn more about his model, head over to his site and Level Up!

Chris Hernandez a young Puerto-Rican man, presents from behind a table to a group of people sitting. His body language suggests he is engaged and mid-speech. Behind him is a large presentation screen with “So…What is a Video Game” written over the image of a console controller. Around Hernandez can be seen equipment such as a laptop, sound board, and projector. The presentation is taking place in the hotel ballroom and the navy and yellow rug and yellow wall of the room are seen in the photo.

Chris Hernandez a young Puerto-Rican man, presents from behind a table to a group of people sitting. His body language suggests he is engaged and mid-speech. Behind him is a large presentation screen with “So…What is a Video Game” written over the image of a console controller. Around Hernandez can be seen equipment such as a laptop, sound board, and projector. The presentation is taking place in the hotel ballroom and the navy and yellow rug and yellow wall of the room are seen in the photo.

This batch of breakout workshops ended the conference. It felt a little odd that there was no closing speech or event, but there were also a lot of attendees with busy travel plans so perhaps the conference committee wanted to keep the schedule flexible

All in all it was a great time. I had an opportunity to celebrate the work of close colleagues as well as pick up a few new tips and tricks from people who have been working with youth and presenting in the industry for quite awhile.

Oh, but there was some cool conference swag!

Black and white ceramic style coffee mug with “ICDL" and ICDL’s Logo in bold white lettering on the front. The coffee mug is sitting on a checkered wooden cutting board.

Black and white ceramic style coffee mug with “ICDL" and ICDL’s Logo in bold white lettering on the front. The coffee mug is sitting on a checkered wooden cutting board.

Sources:

[1] http://www.criticalcore.org/

[2] https://www.leveluptime.studio/levelup-time-studio-edu.html

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