First Day of School: Here We Go Again

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

Every year, it never fails. The last days of August go by and that tickly feeling in my stomach starts. Mine includes a little thud at the end of 20 seconds of elevated heart rate. The thud part is generally located in my mid-section. I have never seen a doctor for this phenomenon because I know it is an automatic healthy response to the coming of a new school year.

Daily Organizer

Over the years, I have developed a fail-safe to-do list that I review before I go in to the school building and tackle the job of putting my classroom back together again. Inevitably, well-meaning custodial staff have once again moved everything despite my explicit instructions not to. The floors will sparkle (careful here, they’re slippery). I’ve always wondered why they don’t mix sand in the wax; it would save many cases of sacroiliac joint dysfunction—this is a fancy medical term for “oh my aching back.” If you are smiling at this description, I have met my goal for the article.

The first day comes and goes, and not once have I experienced the cataclysmic disasters my fertile imagination produces each and every year. I don’t lose any students, the one-to-one aides are really great people and they don’t add work to my special education routine. We’re good to go.

At the top of my list are supplies (disclosure: this blog is a product of Achievement Products®, a wonderful one stop shopping site for all your classroom needs). This year, I’ve been taking a close look at allergen free products. Is it my imagination, or are kids coming to us with more violent allergies? Peanut allergies are common, and so many food products have been made in facilities where peanuts are used that it really pays to read labels carefully. Our kids have enough challenges without facing allergies in the classroom.

There are now all sorts of hypoallergenic markers, crayons, paints and glue for students to use. There are even hypoallergenic balls and other playground items. It’s going to become my practice to add the word “hypoallergenic” to every search I do for supplies no matter where I decide to shop. Better safe than sorry. And if you’re like me, the purchasing process in your district is so convoluted and difficult that you always use some of your own money to outfit your classroom.

It seems I see more and more kids with perceptual disorders. There are some thoughtful products for these kids at very reasonable prices. Here are some new arrivals for you to explore.

I’ve been adding to my collection of exercise items in the classroom. Even if I don’t have children with specific physical disabilities, I have many overweight children and students who rarely get outdoors for fresh air and exercise. It seems they are all playing video games. Video games can be good training for some children, but you must also get them up and moving.

Achievement Products has a carefully selected group of adaptive technology items for the classroom. There are also products for students with communication challenges.

So when you wake up on day one, don’t reach for Pepto-Bismol. You’re just having first day jitters—perfectly normal. I’ve put together some resources for new and experienced teachers as they face the all-important first few days of school.

New Teachers, New School


Practical Advice for Jitters

Survival Guide for New (All) Teachers

Creating a Teacher Mentoring Program

Special Education Teacher Support

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.

Grant Name: Finish Line Youth Foundation Grants

Funded By: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis in areas of company operations, supporting organizations involved with athletics and youth development. Special emphasis is directed toward programs designed to promote active lifestyles and team building skills; and camps designed to promote sports and active lifestyles, and serve disadvantaged and special needs kids.

Program Areas: After-School, Disabilities, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $200,000.00 – $500,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $50,000.00

Address: 3308 North Mitthoeffer Road, Indianapolis, IN 46235-2332

Telephone: 317-899-1022 x6741


Website: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Availability: All States

Autism Speaks Promotion a Success!

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Statistics suggest that this number has increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this ongoing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify approximately 1 in 88 American children as having ASD to some degree; about 1 out of every 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with ASD. This represents a ten-fold increase over the last 40 years.

The Autism Speaks® foundation was established in February 2005 by the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob and Suzanne Wright, with the help of their friend Bernie Marcus’ $25 million donation, launched the organization. Dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments for autism, as well as a potential cure, Autism Speaks® has grown into the world’s leading autism organization. It has increased the awareness of ASD greatly and provides countless resources to individuals with autism and their families.

For the last two years, Achievement Products® has partnered with Autism Speaks® to donate 10% of our Holiday Gift Guide sales. We are delighted to announce that for the 2013 holiday shopping season, we were able to raise and donate $3,573.98. We could not have done this without all of our loyal customers and we thank each and every one of you for helping make this donation possible. Let’s keep it up, and we look forward to our annual Autism Awareness promotion in April, when we will again be partnering with Autism Speaks® to provide another donation.

Thank you again for all of your purchases during the 2013 holiday season. You helped Achievement Products® contribute to an important, worthwhile cause!

Please follow this link to learn how you can give an individual contribution:

We’ll Be Exhibiting at NAEYC! Will You Be There?

Achievement Products® for Special Needs will be an exhibitor at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC®). This time of year we are busy preparing for the NAEYC® Annual Conference & Expo which takes place Nov. 20-23 in Washington, DC. Each year, thousands of early childhood professionals attend the NAEYC conference in order to listen to experts in the field speak and give demonstrations as well as visit the display booths of early childhood supply vendors and other companies who serve the education marketplace. In our booth, (#1922) we will be showcasing our new products as well as have a contest for our visitors to enter. Our friendly Achievement Products® staff is ready to answer any questions and listen to educators’ supply needs so please stop in to say “hi!”


All of the elements in our Achievement Products® booth, which is paired with Discount School Supply’s booth, take a lot of coordination and planning to be sure that everything makes it to the conference center on time and that all our display areas have everything needed in order to make this a successful show. NAEYC® conference time is an especially busy time for the departments who coordinate all of the booth elements: Brand Marketing, Graphics, Merchandising, Sales, Operations, and, of course, the intrepid travel coordinator who handles travel, lodging and any unexpected crises for all of us! These crews work day and night to be sure everything for our booth gets set up as planned, and that the conference runs smoothly.

We hope you’ll stop by the Achievement Products® booth, #1922 (inside the Discount School Supply booth), where we’ll be showcasing a wide variety of special education products in categories such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, gross motor and sensory items and much more. In our booth you can also enter a contest to win a brand new set of Peek-A-Boo Lock Boxes, Set of 6.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Washington, DC!

Shop Now for Holiday Gifts and 10% of Your Purchase Will Be Donated!

For the last two years, Achievement Products® has partnered with the Autism Speaks® foundation to donate 10% on select items purchased during the month of April to this important organization. We are happy to announce that we will be doing the same thing this fall!

Our customers now have the opportunity to contribute to Autism Speaks® with all purchases made from the Achievement Products® Gift Guide through December 15, 2013. With each order, 10% of the purchase price will go toward funding research for the causes, treatments and the prevention of autism. Autism Speaks®, also dedicated to finding a cure for autism, is the world’s leading autism organization and through their efforts have greatly increased the general public’s awareness of autism spectrum disorders. The foundation truly is an unlimited resource for those with autism and their families.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects over 2 million individuals in the United States and tens of millions worldwide. Around 1 in 88 American children are identified as being on the autism spectrum, which is a ten-fold increase over the last 40 years.

If you’d like to help, shop the Gift Guide between now and December 15! 10% of your purchase from the Gift Guide will be donated to Autism Speaks®! We can’t do this without you!

School’s Started, Time to Focus on What’s Important

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

girl classroom

You were probably in your classroom a few times this summer. You wanted to assess things like seating plan, ready to use supplies, classroom library, and to let the custodian know if there were any maintenance issues. There is nothing worse than starting up in the fall with chewing gum blobs under the desks. Ick!

You will be working with the minds of students with learning disabilities and with challenging behaviors. Having the right tools is important. A concept that might take days for a student to grasp can sometimes be understood in minutes if you’re using the right materials. There is also no escaping the fact that technology is rapidly revolutionizing the way we assess and work with our kids. You want to make sure your professional development calendar has technology seminars included. You want to know what’s new, affordable and available to bring you up to speed.

Let’s say you’re teaching an LD reading class with 12 students. Only 5 of those students are on the same level.  You may need books and materials on 7 different levels.  Some students may require large-print books. One needs an audio book. Will there be a PC for every student? Or a tablet or other mobile device? Check in with your building or district IT person to make sure your network connection is the best it can be, he or she may be able to upgrade your wireless connection. Sometimes special education classrooms are left out of technology upgrades in schools. It’s not deliberate, it’s possible the technology folks think you don’t need the hardware. Be proactive and make sure you’re on the updater list.

Check with your Library Media Specialist to see if she has leveled libraries set up for guided reading. If not, work with her to create reading lists using existing collections so you can save time when you stop in to pick up baskets of books for your students. I just have to share this website with you, a teacher has created the ultimate guided reading library right in her own classroom. Wow is it ever great! Be sure your LMS bookmarks it on her teacher terminals. Keep track of what’s new in professional development for  teachers for RTI.  Response to Intervention is becoming the accepted protocol for schools throughout the country. If it is properly implemented it will benefit you immensely. At the very least it should cut down on unnecessary SPED referrals.

You may be teaching one 4th grade LD reading class, but essentially you need the right tools for seven different grades. Do you have the tools you need to teach your students the skills they need? A resource for purchasing the best of the things you need can be found at

I’ve spent some time studying the various types of materials and tools available to special education teachers. Proper tools are available to teach almost any skill at any level. Your most important resource, your own experience, needs to be upgraded along with your supplies and technologies.

Does your budget allow you to purchase all the tools you need for your classroom? I  include a grant opportunity each time I write this blog. Some will apply to your school and your situation. Others will not.  You should always take a look at the grant, however, to see if your situation is a fit. You can also find a free grants database to help you in your search for just the right funding opportunity for your needs.

Let a smile be your best tool for behavior management this year, it’s amazing how many unpleasant situations it can disarm. Good luck in 2013-14. Stay tuned to this blog for more great ideas and pep talks.


Grant Name:  Serves Grants

Funded By:  United States Tennis Association (USTA)

Description:  Grants are awarded to nonprofit organizations that support efforts in tennis and education to help disadvantaged, at-risk youth and people with disabilities. To qualify for a USTA Serves Grant, your organization must: Provide tennis programs for underserved youth, ages 5-18, with an educational component OR Provide tennis programs for people with disabilities (all ages) with a life skills component for Adaptive Tennis programs.

Program Area:   Disabilities, Health/PE

Recipients:  Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline:  10/18/2013

Annual Total Amount:  $800,000.00

Telephone:  914-696-7175



Availability:  All States

Special Education: Myth and Fact

question mark

Special education and associated services are often misunderstood by parents and other community members.  It is not unusual for educators who are not part of the special education system to have limited knowledge about how special education provides evaluations and services to students who qualify.


One common misconception is that some students can’t receive certain special education services from a public school because the school is small and unable to provide such things as speech or occupational therapy. In reality, all special education programs are subsidized by the federal government. If either a school’s diagnostician or an outside evaluator determines that a child qualifies for a special education service, then the school district, regardless of its size or financial condition, is obligated to and MUST provide that service. This is at the heart of PL 94-142 (Public Law 94-142), the federal legislation that was developed in to find the “least restrictive environment” for students with special needs. If the school cannot provide the service, it must contract to have that service provided by a licensed individual or an outside agency. This can mean bringing in a specialist at great cost, or providing transportation (with the parents’ consent) to a neighboring community that can provide that service.

Another misconception is that once an IEP (Individualized Educational Program, a legal document) is signed by all parties, it cannot be changed until the next annual IEP meeting. In fact, parents can request an IEP meeting at any time, and it must be held within 30 days of their request. If changes are agreed upon, an amendment is added to the IEP.

It is often believed that the school has the final decision as to whether a child is eligible to receive special education services. Actually, parents have the right to disagree with the school’s eligibility assessment and can ask for an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation) at the school’s expense. If there is a disagreement after the IEE between the school and the parents, the parents then have the right to a due process hearing where an impartial hearing officer will make the determination as to eligibility. School districts spend time and money to provide responses to requirements of the law. One of the great challenges for anyone entering the special education field is to develop skills for working with stakeholders on behalf of a child, to find the best solutions to complex problems for everyone concerned. The key is to avoid conflict, achieve consensus, and provide optimum learning environments for children in our care.


Are special education services restricted to special education classrooms?  A number of parents of special education students were special education students themselves when they went to school. It is possible that their programs consisted mainly of going to special education classrooms for instruction in the various subject areas. Today, this is not the case. Least restrictive environment means that disabled children should be educated in the regular classroom along with the general population of students as much as possible. To do less is to violate special education law.

It is often believed that special education is extremely costly and is a constant drain on the regular budgets of most schools. This is not always the case. While sports programs, art, band, and other programs for the general population are totally funded by the regular school budget, the special education program is largely subsidized by the federal government. It is true that taxpayers are still paying for these services through the federal taxes that they pay, but a very small amount of the money for special education is actually coming out of a school district’s regular budget. This does not negate the fact that there are sometimes large costs involved, they are simply borne by federal funds. If your school has noticed that children are needing a specific machine or technology to comply with IEP documents, a grant may be written to purchase it, as it will no doubt be needed again. To start your grant search, you may use the Achievement Products® Free Grant Database.

Over the years, as medical science has evolved, there have been many children who survive birth defects that would have prematurely ended their lives. These children exhibit very complex medical situations that are challenges to communities, but people have risen to the challenge and invented ways to keep these children in classrooms when possible.  We’ve employed new technologies, advances in prosthetics, and assistive machinery to keep children in public classrooms all over the nation. This has meant an improved quality of life for thousands of children in our care.

Providing appropriate special education services for all of the students who qualify is a complex and expensive task. There is little wonder that some misconceptions surrounding special education law have lingered over the years as we have changed our responses to new challenges.


Grant Name:  LEGO Children’s Fund Grants

Funded By:  LEGO Children’s Fund

Description:  The LEGO Children’s Fund will provide quarterly grants for programs, either in part or in total, with a special interest paid to collaborative efforts and in providing matching funds to leverage new dollars into the receiving organization. We will give priority consideration to programs that both meet our goals and are supported in volunteer time and effort by our employees.

Program Areas:  After-School, At-Risk/Character, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies, Special Education, Technology

Recipients:  Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline:  Quarterly, October 15, 2013, January 15, 2014, April 15, 2014, July 14, 2014

Average Amount:  $500.00 – $5,000.00



Availability:  All States

Time to Review IEPs

Summer vacation is a time for reflection.  You have an IEP for every special child you teach, and the growth each student has made will be measured in relation to that IEP.  If you are in a K-12 classroom, the children you worked with this past year are moving up to a new grade and there’s a temptation to bundle up and pass along IEPs for the new teachers in the next grade and get ready for your new flock. There’s a danger in this practice, have you made sure the students from this past year have met all their IEP goals? New software for managing IEPs may be helping you stay in touch with progress, but if you are a process oriented person, it would behoove you to go back through every IEP from this past school year to see if goals have been met. If not, and chances are not all goals have been met, you’ll want to evaluate materials and methods to find more effective ways to bring those students to readiness for the next grade, or to adjust IEP goals so they are more realistic. Many IEP meetings take place first thing in September, now’s the time to prepare.

bubble test

The federal government says the average cost of educating a student is around $11,000 per year (this of course varies by state and by individual school district).  Are parents getting their $11,000 worth for each student for which you are responsible? Educating students is a tough business and costs go up rapidly for educating disabled children.  If you don’t think even a concentrated effort has brought students to the level of growth you want to see, you might recommend that certain students go to a summer program.  That will increase the cost of educating each student that you recommend for these intensive efforts, but it may be a good investment to help the student gain some valuable skills. By the end of the summer, the lingering unmet goals should be met and you can move kids up to the next level with a clear conscience.

Even in schools that show good average gains, you may still have individual students who do not show the growth they should.  These are the students we want to focus on. The IEP development process for next year needs to be inspected to make sure there is a legal document in place in September that gets kids off to a great start. The teacher in that next level will be grateful, and so will you, there won’t be that lingering fear that something was left undone.

It’s a fact that we spend more on educating students with disabilities than we do on other students.  That tends to increase the pressure on teachers and administrators to make sure that a majority of these students are growing at a pace that will at least make them competitive in the work force once they graduate. We want to try to get every ounce of growth possible out of these students so they can be both productive and competitive for the rest of their lives.

kids testing

If you have some students that defy goal-setting and seem to stand still no matter what you do, you must investigate new ways to teach these kids. Technology has shown great promise in this regard. There are some wonderful computer programs, especially for reading, that have helped students excel where traditional methods have failed. Your school library media specialist or technology coordinator will be trained in finding those programs that show promise to bring special students up to planned levels. When you identify programs and methods, you’ll also need to identify the funds required to pay for them.

Achievement Products® Free Grant Database will cut your funding search down to size. Special education technology programs are wonderful subjects for grant applications. Most have research to support their effectiveness in teaching the skills you are targeting, and foundations and corporations like to pay for them. They are finite units that can studied and pointed to for their effectiveness. Software programs and Internet based learning tools are also good investments for special kids because they are often effective in attracting your most disengaged child. Kids who just don’t seem to respond to all your work with traditional tools, sometimes warm up to a technology solution.  Also, in the case of internet programs (in the “cloud”), the programs are regularly updated and improved at no additional cost. You don’t need to keep buying new versions, the updates are automatic in the background. You’ll also find that most of the publishers of these programs are very happy to work with you to get the program you need and adjust it to your needs. It’s in their best interests to be responsive. Achievement Products® adaptive technologies may assist in your goal setting process too.

So it’s summer, you’re going to take last year’s IEPs, go through them carefully to see if goals have been met, and come up with strategies and funding to support children that will be ready to learn in a new grade.


Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Dollar General Literacy Foundation Youth Literacy Grants provide funding to schools, public libraries, and nonprofit organizations to help students who are below grade level or experiencing difficulty reading. Grant funding is provided to assist in the following areas:
Implementing new or expanding existing literacy programs; purchasing new technology or equipment to support literacy initiatives; and purchasing books, materials or software for literacy programs.

States: All States
Average Amount: $4,000.00
Website: Dollar General Website
Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other.
Program Funded: After-School, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Early Childhood, ESL/Bilingual/Foreign Language, General Education, Library, Reading, Special Education.
Deadline to Apply: 5/23/2014

This post is brought to you by Achievement Products®