At Thompson Intermediate School in Houston, Texas, students’ social and emotional health is at the heart of the classroom. A survey of its middle schoolers at the start of the 2021-2022 school year revealed that many students were experiencing stress and difficulty relating to teachers, peers, and family. So the Thompson leadership team decided to introduce Along as a way to prioritize student health. In the second part of our four-part series, we explore how non-verbal students at Thompson are prospering through the use of Along.
For Heather Nielson, a special education teacher at Thompson Intermediate School, connecting with her students comes with added challenges. That’s because many of her students have severe autism and are unable to communicate verbally.
This school year, however, Nielson has found that using Along opened up new ways to build relationships with her students and provide them with a safe space to express themselves. “This tool gives them a way to communicate how they are feeling in a really comfortable way,” she said. “You don’t always get to see that side of them. Sometimes they’re feeling more vulnerable and they want to share and they want to be heard.”
As part of a school-wide endeavor, Nielson has been asking her students a reflection question using Along once a week. These weekly check-ins have helped to create a sea of change in the school’s culture—and in Nielsen’s classroom.
Since using Along, Nielson says the social skills of a particular student have “really improved. Some days he comes in frustrated and in a bad mood, and he’s able to voice that in a more constructive way.”
This tool gives them a way to communicate how they are feeling in a really comfortable way. You don’t always get to see that side of them.”
Special education teacher
This tool gives them a way to communicate how they are feeling in a really comfortable way. You don’t always get to see that side of them.”Heather Nielson
Special education teacher
When an educator asks a question in Along, their students have the option of responding in any way they feel comfortable, whether that’s in a text or through an audio or video answer. And, because their answer is only shared directly with their teacher, there is no concern about peer pressure.
“Our autism unit is using Along and they love it,” shared Tanis Griffin, Thompson’s principal. “We have some non-verbal students, and the tool has flexibility to allow them to still interact. This is really valuable for those students. For students who don’t talk to their teachers, this is bringing them out of their shell. It’s those little wins that add up to the big success that we’re seeing now.”
In addition to providing special needs students with an outlet for communication, Along is also giving special education educators important new perspectives about their students’ lives.
Kimberly Frazee, a Thompson special education teacher, said that Along is providing her students an opportunity to share feelings that they may not have had an opportunity to otherwise. “Maybe they feel comfortable with you as a person, but not in front of their peers. That’s what’s different for us as teachers—to have that background knowledge,” said Frazee. “[Along] gives us more empathy. It gives us a better connection. It helps us work better with [students] all the way around.”
Amidst these uncertain times, Thompson students and teachers are finding new connection points every week with Along. They’re building their school community up and strengthening bonds to create an environment that is welcoming and safe—even for students who struggle to communicate.
As Nielson explained to us, “special education is already difficult. Why not give kids more ways to express themselves? It’s really important to have that connection with kids. If you don’t have that connection, then how can you teach them?”
To learn more about how Along is making a difference for all students at Thompson Intermediate School, please read our recent blog and watch this video. And, please come back and visit this blog for additional stories about the impact of Along at Thompson in the coming months.