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Friday, February 5, 2016

Transition Specialist Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. Joins NESCA March 1st, Speaks at "Failure to Launch" Workshop February 23rd


February 4, 2016

Transition Specialist Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. will join NESCA on March 1st, to provide consultation, coaching and assessment services. She has special expertise in supporting students with learning and emotional difficulties. Please welcome her!

Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed.
Currently Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy (BCA), Pignone develops individualized transition plans for students, performs assessments and creates innovative programming related to long-term employability and career success for students.

Bay Cove's career development program earned a special commendation from the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which wrote:

“Bay Cove Academy’s Career Development Department implements a comprehensive curriculum that provides a developmental framework for identifying appropriate career paths for all students. ……Students participating in the program are placed in internships or job placements where they apply skills learned in school in conjunction with practicing employment skills with job counselors…..”

Ms. Pignone also trains professionals in the areas of career development and transition services.

In addition to her 15-year tenure at BCA, Ms. Pignone has worked as an Education Specialist at the Mass. DESE, an Out-of-School Youth Coordinator, and a Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant.


Failure to Launch: How to Get Your Kid Off the Couch and Involved in Life Outside the House

That's the topic of a transition workshop taking place at NESCA at 7:00pm on Tuesday, February 23rd, with Kathleen Pignone as speaker. Participants in this workshop will learn how to:
  • Contingency plan when Transition Plan A (and even Plan B) is not working out as hoped;
  • Create and balance a long-term plan with short-term attainable goals;
  • Foster social motivation and engagement and prevent isolation;
  • Develop motivation, perseverance and resiliency using a strengths-based and person-centered approach;
  • Help teens and young adults learn skills necessary for engaging in decision making and daily activities independent of parents;
  • Access key community resources.
Admission is $20/person. Light refreshments will be served.

To register, please email info@nesca-newton.com, with "Failure to Launch" in the subject line. When we receive your RSVP, we will send payment information and a confirmation.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Save the Date! MinuteMan Arc Transition Conference in Concord Saturday, April 2nd


January 26, 2016

The Journey to 22 and Beyond

Transition Conference 
Presented by MinuteMan Arc

This is a free MinuteMan Arc program for parents/guardians helping loved ones with disabilities to achieve a smooth transition from school into the adult world. MinuteMan Arc will be offering six workshops that will address issues facing our families.

Beyond the Classroom and 22:
Developing Community-Based Skills

Presenter: Marilyn Weber, NESCA Transition Specialist
                           and Veteran Advocate

As you set up goals on your child's IEP/ISP, more life objectives need to be addressed than what may be typically considered. School can address only some of those pieces, but when your child moves out, there are skills that will help them become more independent, more enriched, and more satisfied.
  • What are those skills and how do we, as parents and caregivers, teach them?
  • Who can help us?
  • How do we get our children on board?

Addressing these concerns is essential to assure that your loved one can live safely, confidently and lead a fulfilling life.

When:   9:00am - 1:00pm Saturday, April 2, 2016

                   35 Forest Ridge Road
                   Concord, MA 01742

This program is free and open to the public!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why Forcing Kids to Do Things ‘Sooner and Faster’ Doesn’t Get Them Further in School

From The Washington Post Blog
"The Answer Sheet"

By Valerie Strauss
January 11, 2016

Emily Kaplan is an elementary school teacher living in Boston. In this post, she writes about her experiences working at a no-excuses charter school, and raises the question about whether a relentless focus on academic achievement for even the youngest students is counterproductive.

This first appeared on the Edushyster blog of Jennifer Berkshire.

By Emily Kaplan

The very youngest children at the no-excuses charter school at which I taught all start their nine-hour school day in the same way: by reciting the school “creed.”

“I am a … scholar!” the 200 children chant. The principal weaves among the tables, making sure that the children “track” her by turning their heads in accordance with her movement. One child lets out a giggle. He is immediately sent to the Silent Area.

“I have the power to determine who I am, who I will become, and what I do in life.” They point their thumbs to their chests, extend their arms, and stack their fists in unison. “I will stay focused on achieving excellence.”

I notice that one of my second-grade students is wearing one neon green sock, in stark defiance of the dress code. I am contractually obligated to order him to take it off or to send him to the dean. I smile and look away.

“I will make smart choices because I care about myself, my teammates and my community.”

I turn my attention to the table of kindergartners next to me. They’re my favorite to watch, these tiny children who haven’t yet learned to be predictable.

Most mouth the words obediently: “Today is a step on my path toward success!” On cue, their little fists shoot into the air.

The principal smiles and returns to the front of the cafeteria. Ignoring the group of children sitting stone-faced in the Silent Area, she announces that we’re about to sing a catchy song about self-determination.

But I am giggling. The kindergartner next to me didn’t say “path to success.” He said “path to recess.”

Success in the Early Grades

This school is obsessed with success. Its students chant about it daily; its walls are plastered with banner-sized recipes in bold fonts and bright colors. And its proponents claim that, because it has the highest test scores in the state, it has achieved it.

These test scores don’t tell the whole story, of course, but they are also not meaningless. The school’s youngest students— children of color from predominantly low-income families— can do a lot. These 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds who start each day by pumping their fists into the air while chanting about success are articulate in person and on the page; they are perspicacious readers and creative, rational mathematicians.

The nine hours a day they spend in classrooms named after four-year colleges— where every lesson is aligned to a standard and cut-out caterpillars with their names on them publicly climb the Reading Level Mountain—enable them to attain academic milestones earlier than their peers in more traditional school environments, where children [at least theoretically] spend six-hour school days engaged in less intense direct instruction and more play-based exploration.*

If the early attainment of academic skills—coupled with constant, explicit messaging about the necessity of pursuing long-term goals—were a primary determinant of long-term success, it stands to reason that the young children at this “no-excuses” school would continue, unobstructed and ahead of the curve, on their “path to success.” But they don’t.

Adolescent Struggles

Once children at this school reach adolescence, many struggle. Their high school entrance exam percentiles are far lower than those of their state standardized tests, and they are not admitted in large numbers to the most selective high schools. At the high schools they do attend, they struggle: in their first semester, 81% of last year’s 9th graders earned below a 3.0 grade point average.

Existing evidence indicates that these students— who have spent their entire educational careers, from kindergarten onward, in classrooms named after four-year colleges, striving toward big long-term goals like “excellence” and “success” — aren’t graduating from college in large numbers.

They aren’t excelling, and the extent to which they are even succeeding is debatable.

So why is this? Why do some children who learn to read earlier than their peers do so poorly in ways that matter later on? Why do children for whom every aspect of their education, from kindergarten onward, is tailored toward graduating from college often struggle to graduate from college?

Reflecting on my experiences teaching both at this school and at more traditional public schools, I find myself wondering if the methodology that enables young children to achieve so much so early actually hinders their long-term prospects. What if the struggles of graduates of “no excuses” schools reveal deficits that are not academic, but rather socio-emotional?

What would happen if, instead of spending nine hours a day engaged in academic tasks determined by a teacher, children were to spend a large portion of their day developing “soft skills” that would enable them to overcome the hurdles they will encounter when they’re older?

What if, like their suburban counterparts, they spent large portions of their day in rigorous, developmentally appropriate activities: learning to make friends, make art, and make believe, exploring and creating their interests and their identities?

That is, what if a necessary component of improving the long-term prospects of small children from disadvantaged backgrounds is not accelerating through childhood, but purposefully lingering in it?

The Case for Developmentally Appropriate Activities

To some, this approach might seem counter-intuitive: the earlier you board the train, say, the further you’ll go, and sooner. (Indeed, this type of reasoning seems to drive the leaders of the no-excuses school reform movement, who are seldom experts on childhood development.)

This type of “sooner, faster, further” thinking goes astray when applied to education, however, because child development is both non-linear and marked by largely immutable landmarks. (Just as the age at which developmentally normal babies learn to walk occurs within a span, countless studies have shown that the long-term academic abilities of a child who learns to read at six are no weaker than one who learns at four.)

Pushing children to attain academic skills they will attain regardless— while depriving them of other, more developmentally appropriate activities that would enable them to succeed independently when they are older— is short-sighted at best.

Implementing a more developmentally appropriate curriculum for young children might result in lower test scores in the short term, but I suspect that its long-term effects— both in terms of test scores and more relevant measures of success— would compensate.

(This solution, however, is admittedly incomplete; I suspect that in order to set children living in poverty on a true “path to success,” communities require resources and support that no school on its own is capable of providing.)

Maybe, though, letting small children linger in childhood would endow them with more of the real skills necessary to STAY FOCUSED ON ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE. Maybe, in the long run, it would better enable them to MAKE SMART CHOICES.

Maybe my little neighbor, who pumped his fist in the air as he conflated success with recess, was on to something.

*[1] Many argue that this is a pervasive problem in early childhood classrooms nationwide. The “no excuses” methodology is an extreme example of this approach, and I would argue that its consequences are proportionately severe.


Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Free Workshop in Sharon March 17th: Why and How to Begin Transition Planning

From the Sharon SEPAC

January 20, 2016

What comes after high school for children with special needs? Now is the time to start planning!

Presenter: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS

Kelley Challen is Director of Transition Services at NESCA, overseeing planning, consultation, coaching and evaluation services. With more than a decade of experience facilitating social, life, and career skill development programs for transition-aged youth, Ms. Challen believes that the transition to post-secondary learning, living, and working is ongoing, and there is no age too early or too late to begin the process.

When: 3:00 - 5:00pm Thursday, March 17, 2016

School-Based Mindfulness Training May Reduce Stress, Trauma

From Reuters Health
via Medical Daily

December 19, 2015

Middle-school students in urban areas may benefit from in-school mindfulness programs, a new study suggests.

Devoting time to mindful meditation and yoga in school may
improve health and recurrent thoughts about negative experiences.

Students taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction program during the school day ended up with less symptoms of stress and trauma than children attending classes on health topics, researchers found.

"High-quality structured mindfulness programs have the potential to really improve students' lives in ways that I think can be really meaningful over the life course," said lead author Dr. Erica Sibinga of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Children in many U.S. cities are at an increased risk of stresses and traumas due to the effects of community drug use, violence, multigenerational poverty, limited education and economic opportunities, Sibinga and her colleagues write in the journal Pediatrics.

The new study involved 300 students in grades five through eight at two Baltimore public schools. The researchers randomly assigned them to either a 12-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program or health classes to take during the school day.

Nearly all of the participants were black and almost all were eligible for the free school lunch program, which is offered to students with financially need.

The mindfulness program had three components: material about meditation, yoga and the mind-body connection; practice of those techniques; and group discussion.

In general, mindfulness training is geared toward a person "tuning in" - instead of "tuning out" like other meditation practices.

"It allows them to not only know what is happening, but to stop and take three breaths and figure out how they want to respond to what is happening the present moment," Sibinga told Reuters Health.

At the end of the program, compared to those who took health classes for the 12 weeks, the students in the mindfulness program had lower levels of general health problems, depression, recurrent thoughts about negative experiences and other symptoms of stress and trauma.

Sibinga said the differences would be enough for the students to notice in their day-to-day lives.

The researchers acknowledge some limitations to the research, like children missing some classes and possibly being exposed to mindfulness practices outside the sessions.

Sibinga also said it would be difficult to say how the programs would work in other schools with different student populations, but she suspects there would be benefits.

The next step is to look at how to spread the program to other schools, and look at how the program may work, she said.

"It doesn’t get us off the hook of trying to reduce the sources of trauma in our urban life," she said. But the study suggests adding structured mindfulness programs in urban settings would be beneficial, she added.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1k78lj3 Pediatrics, online 12/18/15.


Therapeutic Yoga at NESCA

Therapeutic yoga uses movement, breathing, mindfulness exercises and meditation to bring children to an awareness of what is happening in their bodies and minds, and to provide them with specific tools they can use to regulate themselves.

Many children respond better to the body-based approach used in therapeutic yoga than to traditional talking-based therapies. This approach can be especially powerful for kinesthetic learners and those with language processing difficulties.

Therapeutic yoga sessions, which are now also available on Saturdays, are typically done 1-1, but in some cases small groups may be available.

For more information or to sign up for therapeutic yoga services, please call Hannah Gould at 617-640-0450, or email hgould@nesca-newton.com.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The 8 Life Skills All 18-Year-Olds Should Have: A Checklist for Parents

From NBC's Today Show

By Julie Lythcott-Haims
January 25, 2016

"...our kids must be able to do these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone. If they're calling us to ask how, they do not have the skill."

If we want our kids to have a shot at making it in the world as 18-year-olds, without the umbilical cord of the cell phone being their go-to solution in all manner of things, they're going to need a set of basic life skills.

Based upon my observations as dean, and the advice of parents and educators around the country, here are some examples of practical things they'll need to know how to do before they go to college — and here are the crutches that are currently hindering them from standing up on their own two feet:

1.) An 18-year-old must be able to talk to strangers — faculty, deans, advisers, landlords, store clerks, human resource managers, coworkers, bank tellers, health care providers, bus drivers, mechanics—in the real world.

The crutch: We teach kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers — respectfully and with eye contact — for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.

2.) An 18-year-old must be able to find his way around a campus, the town in which her summer internship is located, or the city where he is working or studying abroad.

The crutch: We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there; thus, kids don't know the route for getting from here to there, how to cope with transportation options and snafus, when and how to fill the car with gas, or how to make and execute transportation plans.

3.) An eighteen-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines.

The crutch: We remind kids when their homework is due and when to do it— sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them; thus, kids don't know how to prioritize tasks, manage workload, or meet deadlines, without regular reminders.

4.) An 18-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a household.

The crutch: We don't ask them to help much around the house because the checklisted childhood leaves little time in the day for anything aside from academic and extracurricular work; thus, kids don't know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.

5.) An 18-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems.
The crutch: We step in to solve misunderstandings and soothe hurt feelings for them; thus, kids don't know how to cope with and resolve conflicts without our intervention.

6.) An 18-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs of courses and workloads, college-level work, competition, tough teachers, bosses, and others.

The crutch: We step in when things get hard, finish the task, extend the deadline, and talk to the adults; thus, kids don't know that in the normal course of life things won't always go their way, and that they'll be okay regardless.

7.) An 18-year-old must be able to earn and manage money.

The crutch: They don't hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for what ever they want or need; thus, kids don't develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, accountability to a boss who doesn't inherently love them, or an appreciation for the cost of things and how to manage money.

8.) An 18-year-old must be able to take risks.

The crutch: We've laid out their entire path for them and have avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles for them; thus, kids don't develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. "grit") or the thick skin (a.k.a. "resilience") that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.

Remember: our kids must be able to do all of these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone. If they're calling us to ask how, they do not have the life skill.


Julie Lythcott-Haims is the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and the author of "How to Raise an Adult."

In her new book, Lythcott-Haims has delivered a provocative manifesto that exposes the detrimental effects of helicopter parenting and puts forth an alternative philosophy for raising self-sufficient young adults. She draws on research, conversations with educators and employers, and her own insights as a mother and student dean to highlight the ways in which over-parenting harms children and their stressed-out parents. While empathizing with parents' universal worries, she offers practical alternative strategies that underline the importance of allowing children to make their own mistakes and develop the resilience, resourcefulness, and inner determination necessary for success. 

Relevant to parents of toddlers as well as of twentysomethings, come hear a rallying cry for those who wish to ensure that the next generation can take charge of their own lives with competence and confidence.


NESCA Transition Services

Transition is the process, ideally beginning at age 14 if not sooner and extending through high school graduation and beyond, by which an adolescent or young adult masters the life skills necessary to function independently in post-secondary school or the workplace. NESCA offers complete transition assessment (including testing and community-based observation), planning and consultation services, coordinated by Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Number of College Students Seeking Mental Health Treatment is Growing Rapidly

From the HuffPost College Blog

By Tyler Kingkade
January 14, 2016

The increase of students seeking mental health treatment is vastly outpacing enrollment growth. And no one knows why.

A new report from Penn State University, pictured, shows that
demand for counseling centers on college campuses nationwide
grew significantly over the past five years.

An increasing number of college students are seeking help for mental health issues, at a rate outpacing the growth in enrollment by five-fold, a new report shows.

Data collected at 139 college and university counseling centers, from 2009-2010 through 2014-2015, reflects "slow but consistent" growth in students reporting depression, anxiety and social anxiety. And 20 percent of students seeking mental health treatment, the report found, are taking up about half of all campus counseling center appointments.

The 2015 annual report that was released earlier this week from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University is based on data that focused on 100,736 college students nationwide seeking mental health treatment.

CCMH's report reflects several years of students speaking out about problems on campus dealing with mental health, and a growing conversation about burnout in college.

One-in-8 student clients said sleep was a problem for them, a rate that is 30 percent higher than those needing help for alcohol, and almost three times the rate of students who needed help from counseling centers to overcome drug abuse.

Campus counseling center leaders have said for years that they perceive there to be an increase in demand for their services. As New York magazine noted last year, surveys of college providers show counselors seem to always think things are getting worse. And this set of data confirms their suspicions, at least over the past five years.

The data also explains why students have routinely complained about long wait times to get appointments at counseling centers, said Ben Locke, executive director of CCMH.

The campus centers are continually understaffed because their budgets are often based on some kind of historical calculation of the number of students enrolled and previous rates of students requesting appointments, Locke said.

"This is the reason we hear those stories that 'I called my counseling center to get help and they said it'll be a three or four week wait,'" Locke said.

The report still leaves the question unanswered of why more students need help. CCMH concluded that "rates of prior treatment are not changing and therefore unlikely to be the cause of the increased demand for services."

"The jury is still out on whether it reflects a sicker student body," said Dr. Victor Schwartz, medical director of the Jed Foundation, a group that works with colleges to prevent suicide, "or are we making headway in getting people to come in sooner, which would be good news."

Another possibility Schwartz floated, is that there are more resources available for mental health services on campus, compared to off campus.

The report and Locke also point to the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004, which is designed to award millions of dollars in grants to prevent suicide among young people.

The percentage of students using counseling services seeking help for harassment or sexual assault, drug and alcohol use, or existing mental health disorders has remained constant.

One issue in particular, however, stood out: There's been a steady increase in students reporting self-injuries, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. 

Locke suggested that as college becomes more accessible, bringing in lower income students who may never have had mental health services available, this could account for a slight increase of students going to counseling centers. He said, however, that demographic changes alone don't explain the trend.

In recent years, pundits have pointed to anecdotes of students asking to use "trigger warnings" in classes, and complaining about "microagressions" as examples that undergraduates today are less resilient and too "coddled."

But Locke outright dismissed that as an explanation for the report's findings of a significant increase in the number of students seeking out counseling services.

"You don't see a 38 percent relative increase because of a sudden disappearance of resilience at the national level," Locke said.

To criticize students for seeking out help for their mental health concerns, he added, would be "blaming the victim."

"We need to avoid judging students as lacking a characteristic," Locke said.