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Travel Training during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has also spawned an innovative first for education! The virus has caused all schools to adapt to a different platform for educating students: on-line instruction. So, the New York City Department of Education District 75 Office of Travel Training has moved our instruction to a remote learning platform. We know we cannot realistically teach students with significant cognitive, physical, emotional, hearing and multiple-disabilities the skills and behaviors to safely cross streets, interact with the hordes of people on the NYC Transit system, solve all the problems that disruptions in transit create, etc. in a virtual environment. But we have to do something! As special education teachers, we are responsible for providing instruction to our students in social and travel related skills and behaviors. To do this, we have modified our Pre-Travel instructional activities and developed a comprehensive unit plan for on-line learning, the Nine Essential Skills for Safety and Independence essential for safe and independent travel.

What do we mean by Pre-Travel instruction? It is a concept and practice our Office of Travel Training developed many years ago to support students who had been assessed as eligible for Travel Training and were on a waiting list for the 1-to-1 field instruction. Pre-Travel instruction is based on a review of a student’s Travel Training assessment, including interviews with teachers, parents, and other professionals, to determine which skills and behaviors the student needs to develop or strengthen to be successful in the 1-to-1 travel training when schools re-open. Travel Training staff typically provides the Pre-Travel instruction to an individual student or a small group within a school community or neighborhood. Now, we are doing it for students who were currently receiving 1-to-1 training or were on the waiting list while they are at home. This transition in teaching environments is challenging!

The Nine Essential Skills to Increase Safety and Independence to be an independent traveler are:

· Awareness of Environment

· Attention to Task

· Negotiating Dynamic and Static Environments

· Initiating

· Recognizing and Avoiding Danger and Obstacles

· Appropriate Social Behavior

· Recognizing the Need for and Requesting Assistance

· Problem Solving

· Decision Making

Our goal was to introduce each of these skills and provide a multitude of activities and learning opportunities for students and their families to delve deep to create a strong foundation in these skills. In the past, exposure to these pre-travel skills prior to one-on-one training has resulted in shorter training times. Travel Training teachers and travel trainers are using multiple ways to communicate with families on an ongoing and consistent basis including video conferencing, email, Google Classroom, website activities, phone calls, texts and the United States Postal Service. We are focused on reaching all students and families with a variety of different learning needs and in a variety of different circumstances. Each week the lessons are scaffolded to introduce the skill, create meaning for the students, provide practice opportunities and activities ending with a student self-reflection.

The New York City Department of Education District 75 Office of Travel Training remains very positive and highly motivated during this challenging time. Our students and families have been very appreciative that we are providing support and learning opportunities even though we are currently unable to provide 1-to-1 travel training. For the type of instruction we provide, learning remotely, not outside in the real world is obviously not ideal, but we are constantly adapting our instruction to provide creative ways to teach our students. Our goal is to keep our students engaged, motivated and prepared so that eventually when things return to normal, they will have the fundamental skills they need to get them back on the route to freedom.

Thank you and stay safe.

David Abrahams

City Wide Coordinator

District 75, Office of Travel Training, NYCDOE

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