In Hawaii’s SPED classrooms, teachers and students alike are still playing catch-up

Jeffrey Bednar watched his son on the autism spectrum struggle with distance learning during the pandemic.
Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 1:10 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 25, 2022 at 4:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Jeffrey Bednar watched his son on the autism spectrum struggle with distance learning during the pandemic.

“It was heartbreaking and stressful simultaneously,” Bednar said.

“You know, as a parent, but I think as a man in particular, we want to try to fix things. And not knowing how to do that makes it that much more disheartening and stressful.”

His son, Parker, is now in the fifth grade at Kaneohe Elementary. He is in Lauren Collier’s class.

“This year, a big focus that we’re having is working in small groups,” said Collier, a special education teacher. “Because now we have the option to do some small group work, but we just didn’t have those skills.”

The pandemic kept her students home for what seemed like a long two and a half months until the DOE said it was OK for special education students to come back to classrooms first.

“It was great that we were back, but it’s not like we could just teach regularly,” Collier said.

Collier had to keep her Kaneohe Elementary students separated when they returned, making it difficult for kids to practice social skills.

And that’s important for kids like Parker.

“You could see his mind wandering,” Bednar said.

He said his son missed his friends and acted out. He said he feels like he still hasn’t fully recovered from those few months of missed time.

“It was challenging,” he said. “It almost feels like it’s still ongoing.”

“It was a lot harder at home,” said Jessica Ibarra, who helps out one-on-one with special education students and is the parent of one as well. She said her ninth-grader is very shy.

“It kind of pushed her back a little bit,” she said.

But she said the good news is that teachers like Collier are helping their kids recover.

“She started to talk a little bit more. And then the people that she felt comfortable with it was easier for her to do things with them,” said Ibarra.

Collier said that added flexibility with seating and masking has helped her teach important lessons.

“For my students who have autism, we want them to be able to work on practicing the social skills,” said Collier. “But you can’t pick up on some of these social cues and skills if you’re not able to show your face. "

She said now that everyone is together, learning will only get better from here.