Reporter: Leon Cheong
Interviewee: Karen Kaplan, Executive Director, Wings Learning Center
How was Wings Learning Center founded?
Wings Learning Center was founded by Irma Velasquez, one of those mothers, who not only wished things would happen and wanted things to happen but made things happen, especially when it came to her son with Autism. Wings, now in its 11th year of operation, has just moved into its new home at 1201 Main Street, Redwood City, CA. It is a school licensed with the State Department of Education and currently contracts with districts in San Francisco County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County and some east bay schools. Some families choose to make a private placement to obtain a meaningful education for their son or daughter on the spectrum.
Please describe the key components of your program. What methodologies are incorporated into the classroom?
Our multi-disciplinary team, made up of educational specialists, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist and behavior management coordinator become familiar with the student’s strengths, challenges and most of all their interests and anxieties to create an environment in which learning is successful. Our classroom environments have been designed using the TEACCH Model, and the SCERTS Model , and are supportive of our students’ sensory needs.
The family is a key player, helping to identify critical learning areas they feel are important and participate through meetings, observations, input documents, and daily notes.
What are some of the strategies that are used to create learning opportunities for your students?
Our Speech & Language team provides Assistive Communication evaluations, programs devices and trains all staff in use. Students take their voices everywhere! Our Occupational Therapy team utilizes a state of the at Clinical OT space plus the kitchen, laundry and other functional program areas as well as accessing local community resources (stores, parks, museums, restaurants) to develop fine motor, motor planning, strength, endurance and sensory processing in meaningful and engaging environments.
Every visual strategy possible is put into place to structure learning and decrease dependency on an adult. Our Music Therapist expands group engagement, motor planning and communication and social skills through weekly sessions.
The local community offers vast teaching opportunities for our students. Safety skills for moving throughout their local community are taught. Shopping for groceries, banking, exercise at local gyms, volunteering at the museum, credit union and adult day workshops are integrated activities in our students’ weekly schedules.
A variety of Social Skills are taught through proven strategies such as Carol Gray’s “Social Stories”, Michelle Garcia Winner’s “Thinking About You, Thinking About Me curriculum, Dr. Janette McAfee’s “Navigating the Social World” and Brenda Myles, “The Hidden Curriculum”.
How does Wings work with other organizations in the community to maximize resources to families?
Wings Learning Center has always wanted to be more than just a school. An annual Autism Lecture Series is now offered to the larger community, including speakers who are from The MIND Institute, Stanford University, Kaiser and University of California San Francisco. An annual Special Needs Fair is held, bringing together 50 plus special needs resource providers to connect to families and workshops for parents, professionals and students to increase their knowledge about strategies, interventions and research.
Graduate students from Stanford and UCSF utilize our student body in research studies. Dominican University and Notre Dame De Namur place interns on site to learn education strategies, occupational therapy interventions and speech & language techniques.
Wings Learning Center believes in collaboration and honors outside expertise and research. It is a center that values on-going learning for all.
Karen has over 35 years of experience in the field of ASD with children, teen, adults and their families. She engages with schools, residential programs, vocational and nonprofit day programs addressing the challenges of Autism and other similar learning differences. She works with Universities to help mentor teachers & therapists. She founded an Autism Lecture Series in 2008 and Special Needs Resource Fair 2009 which continue today in SF Bay Area.