Beth Kennedy Explains the Intervener Model for Michigan
Beth Kennedy, M.Ed., the Director of Deafblind Central, in Michigan, has facilitated the development of intervener training programs in her state. We asked Beth to share information with us about this exciting project that started three years ago and has clearly had a positive impact on The Great Lakes State.
How are interveners being used in Michigan?
There are currently three programs (Bloomfield Hills Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program, Michigan School for the Deaf, and St. Louis Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program) that employ interveners, with a total of 10 interveners working in three districts across the State. Those interveners are assigned on a 1:1 basis to students who are DeafBlind. The students themselves have a wide range of abilities, but they all have benefited from having an intervener. Michigan operates under local control, so at one point, all three districts had different job descriptions for interveners. I was able to bring the administrators from each of the districts together to discuss the development of a common job description, including roles and responsibilities. Persistence paid off, and we now have one! We used the one posted on the TSBVI website to start, made adjustments to reflect what is being done in Michigan, and then asked experts Carolyn Monaco, Linda Alsop, and Dr. Barbara McLetchie to review it. We refer to the job description as a “skeleton” that local districts can flesh out with the help of their own human resource departments to reflect their needs, while retaining the key elements of the role of an intervener.
This year, one of the three districts has been selected to become a demo site. I will be providing more intensive technical assistance/consultation and coaching to help build the program to reflect as many best and promising practices as possible. The other two districts will continue to receive support, but not at the same level.
Next year, it is my hope that through onsite visits and the use of various distance technologies, parents, teachers, administrators, and others who wish to learn more about intervention and the feasibility of employing interveners will access the demo site and various staff members there to increase the hiring of interveners in other districts.
How are they trained?
First and foremost, I encourage districts to support their interveners to take the online coursework offered by either Utah State University or East Carolina University. One of the three districts has paid for the classes and provided some pay for time spent completing them. It is my hope that all four of those interveners will pursue national certification. Interveners in another district are eligible for reimbursement through the district, and one of the five interveners is currently enrolled. In the third district, one of the two interveners is seeking scholarship monies to help cover her expenses.
To supplement- but NOT replace- the online courses, the project offers two to three trainings each year. These trainings are open only to interveners. This format allows people from various areas of the State to network and learn from one another. Having said that, we have begun to tape the trainings and post links on our website. We have learned that training interveners is critical, but it is equally important to make sure that other team members are educated as well. If there is a lack of understanding on the part of the team as to the role of the intervener, and the strategies that s/he employs, the team will not function in the best interest of the student who is DeafBlind. I hope to host a webinar this year on the teacher-intervener dynamic.
Experts in the field are brought in for the presentations, with some appearing twice in response to the feedback provided by the interveners. I work with the presenters before and during the presentations to varying degrees. Carolyn Monaco, Linda Alsop, and Dr. Barbara McLetchie have all been to Michigan at least once- which is why they were asked to provide feedback on the job description.
I mentioned previously that I provide various forms of technical assistance-information/resources, consultation, and coaching for the interveners. It is important to offer support in the implementation of what they are learning online and at the project trainings.
With the help of the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness, I have established an intervener listserv specific to Michigan. This allows interveners to readily interact with one another between trainings. It also facilitates the dissemination of information about school visits, future trainings, and news to the interveners.
What is next?
The interveners themselves have expressed much appreciation for the efforts the project has been making to provide training and networking opportunities for them. In general, there is a greater awareness of what interveners do within these three areas, as well as other parts of the State. Now our job is to raise this to a change in knowledge in order to increase the number of working interveners.
The administrator work group that developed the job description is close to finishing a one page document that will help guide people in the determination of which students need an intervener. We based ours on a document developed by the Utah DeafBlind Project.
The administrators in the initial work group will be joined by administration from DB Central’s (the project’s) Advisory Committee to develop a plan to disseminate information to other districts. We will rely on materials developed by the SKI-HI Institute at Utah State University as we proceed.
We are also planning to help disseminate the materials in development for parents. As with many changes in the field, we believe that the parents will ultimately be the driving force in getting interveners hired in more schools.
What would you recommend to other states regarding setting up an intervener model?
The work we are doing with and for interveners is part of a major project initiative for this grant cycle. This type of system improvement takes a great deal of time and effort. In October 2008, the start of Year 1 of a five year cycle, project staff relied on Pat Rachal, who has expertise in the area of systems change/improvement, as well as deafblindness, to help us set benchmarks for our five year cycle. Pat is the Director of the New York DeafBlind Collaborative and head of the Political Science department at Queens College.
She helped us to see that, in order to impact a system, you must take small, reasonable steps. Trying to jump in leap too far forward all at once will put the entire effort at risk. The process that she led us through was much like the PATH process- we started with our vision for the end of Year 5, and then set benchmarks for Years 1-4 that would result in the achievement of our goals for this initiative.
By the end of Year 5 (9/30/2013), we hope to have the demo site up and running, a model to address staff turnover in place, and a summative report that can be shared with the Michigan Department of Education, local districts, and other interested parties, in order to help demonstrate what we already know about the benefit of interveners for children and young adults who are DeafBlind. I would be happy to share the plan in its entirety with anyone who is interested.