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Heartland AEA/Waukee Staff Team Up to Serve Students Who Are Twice as Exceptional

Posted on 05/23/2018 at 12:00 AM by Courtney Croatt

Group of staff who presented at ITAG Conference

Presenting at the Iowa Talented and Gifted Association’s Spring 2018 conference were, front row, left to right, Jessica Stumme (School Psychologist), Vicki Sanders (School Social Worker), Brea Burrack (Waukee ELP teacher) and Erin Sharp (School Psychologist). Back row, left to right, Kyra Wilcox-Conley (Professional Learning & Leadership Consultant), Suzanne Laird (Waukee ELP teacher) and Kate Boonstra (Family & Educator Coordinator). 

Partnership and collaboration have been the name of the game for a group of Heartland AEA and Waukee Schools staff who have come together to better support Waukee students who are eligible for special education and gifted services simultaneously—“Twice Exceptional” or 2E students. 

Since the worlds of special education and gifted education don’t mingle much in school systems, the group came together to learn from one another. As an informal professional learning community (PLC), the team looked at the data regarding how many of these students the Waukee district was serving. They studied the professional literature on strategies to combine interventions from gifted education (acceleration, curriculum compacting, enrichment) and special education (progress monitoring, specially designed instruction) to leverage the greatest results for those students. During the 2017-18 school year, the group presented its results to various audiences within the district (12 teachers of the gifted and talented, 22 AEA staff, 27 principals, 6 district administrators and 79 PK- 12 special education teachers) to give them tools to identify and serve these learners. 

The PLC team shares expertise from both special education and gifted education paradigms: an AEA school social worker and two AEA school psychologists, three elementary and secondary teachers of the gifted and talented, an AEA consultant for gifted and talented and assessment and a parent of a twice-exceptional student who is an AEA Family & Educator Coordinator. 

“Students with high cognitive abilities alongside co-existing disabilities have always been in our classrooms,” Kate Boonstra, a Heartland AEA Family & Educator Coordinator, said. “Schools often have great programming for both disability and high ability, but it isn’t common yet for the two to work together. When educators and AEA staff recognize that giftedness and disability can appear in the same student, the resulting collaboration makes a huge difference in meeting students’ needs.” 

The group came together on April 13-14, 2018 at the Iowa Talented and Gifted Association’s (ITAG) Spring 2018 conference to present their learning about 2E students to their colleagues from around the state. 

The group gathered several student examples and video clips as part of their presentation. One student’s IEP goal tracked the percentage of 5-minute intervals without physical aggression toward others. Before this student’s high ability in math was recognized, he was exhibiting physical aggression 100% of the 5-minute opportunities, with his “best” day being 40% of the intervals without aggression.

After his math aptitude was discovered and programmed for through the extended learning program teacher (gifted and talented), the student’s intervals of challenging behavior related to physical aggression were drastically reduced. Most days he displayed aggression 0% of intervals, with the highest being about 5% and that was only 1-2 times per month.

When interviewed, this student said, “I kinda feel more accomplished and feel like I can do anything that involves math. And I feel like I could help others when they’re in math at the same time as me, when they need to figure something out. It has made me feel more excited every day.” 

“I’m beyond proud of this collaborative team,” Peg Erke, Director of Student Services for Waukee Schools, said. “Their collaboration began by listening to and learning from each other about the research and needs of 2E students. Then their shared learning permeated the district and AEA via their presentations. Thanks again to this amazing professional group!”

“My learning and attendance at the ITAG conference continued to affirm what an amazing group of professionals I am blessed to work with,” Stacie De Haan, Director of Instructional Services for Waukee Schools, said. “Their presentation was one of the best at the conference, allowing the team to share what Waukee and Heartland AEA is doing to support 2E students in our schools.”

“I’m excited to see others within Heartland AEA and throughout the state learning from this interdisciplinary team,” Boonstra said. “Twice-exceptionality is close to my heart, as the mother of a 2E child. As I think back on all the adults who have served my son, it’s tremendously rewarding to reflect on their growth and discovery. Twice-exceptionality was new to most of them, but now they’re taking what they’ve learned and using it to make a difference for more and more students.” 

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