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Creating a Foundation for Learning and Acceptance: Norfranc’s Story (Includes Spanish Translation)

Special Education Advisory Committee shares the story of a student's journey at Sleeping Gian School



Norfranc Duarte Montenegro has come a long way, and not just in terms of his journey to Steamboat Springs, Colo. Norfranc moved to the area from Nicaragua just shortly before the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Prior to his arrival in Steamboat, he had never been to school before.


Norfranc has autism spectrum disorder and was nonverbal. And with little to no prior information about him, the special education staff at Sleeping Giant began with the basics: getting him used to being at school.


According to his case manager, Katherine Leipold, they started teaching Norfranc the foundational skills that most kids know coming into school. He didn’t understand how to sit in a chair, had behavior problems, and even needed potty training.


As Norfranc’s case manager, Leipold is in charge of creating his curriculum and organizing his schedule. She also works closely with and helps to train the paraprofessionals who work with Norfranc on a daily basis.


Slowly but surely, Norfranc began to learn to adapt to being in a classroom. Since his arrival at SGS, he has learned skills such as using a spoon and fork, sitting in a chair for up to 30 minutes, and he knows not to run away from the classroom.


“He is a slow learner, but once he gets it, he has it.”


Adapting to a classroom setting has enabled him to begin to learn more and more each day. He is learning letter recognition and can count to 10. He has started to speak a combination of English and Spanish and can vocalize his feelings more. He can even do a puzzle all on his own.


Emily Varela is a paraprofessional who spends up to 50% of her day with Norfranc. She can speak Spanish and has been able to identify additional words in his vocabulary.


When Varela first began working as a paraprofessional, she didn’t know what to expect and was nervous. Now, she is more comfortable with the role, and spending time with Norfranc makes her day better.


“I enjoy coming to work and spending time with him,” Varela said. “It makes me happy that I am able to help him with things.”


Learning these foundational skills has given Norfranc more confidence. He is proud of how he can now get in line to go play outside. His newfound confidence has led to the blossoming of his warm and affectionate personality.


“His peers adore him,” said Leipold. “Last year, his kindergarten classmates all brought apples for him for his birthday because he is known to steal apples. They fully embrace him and are his advocates at the end of the day. They love and adore him.”


Norfranc spends about 30 minutes a day in a general classroom setting and eats lunch, and goes to recess with his class. He is also now in biliteracy classes. His team of educators work hard to make sure he spends time with his students in his class and doesn’t miss the fun parts of going to school. If his class is participating in fun activities, such as a birthday party for a student, his general education teacher Jennifer Wiedel always makes sure he can participate. He has also been able to participate in every field trip this year. His team of educators works together to modify the experience so he can participate.


“He was so far behind his peers,” said Leipold. “He has come such a long way.”


Top Photo Caption: Katherine Leipold smiles with her student Norfrac at Sleeping Giant School. (Special Education Advisory Committee/Courtesy)


Creando una Fundación para el Aprendizaje y la Aceptación: La historia de Norfranc


Por: El Comité Consultivo de Educación Especial


Norfranc Duarte Montenegro ha recorrido un largo camino, y no sólo en términos de su viaje a Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Norfranc se trasladó a la zona desde Nicaragua poco antes del inicio del año escolar 2021-2022. Antes de su llegada a Steamboat, nunca había ido a la escuela.


Norfranc tiene trastorno del espectro autista y no hablaba. Y con poca o ninguna información previa sobre él, el personal de educación especial de Sleeping Giant comenzó con lo básico: acostumbrarlo a estar en la escuela.


Según su tutora, Katherine Leipold, empezaron enseñando a Norfranc las habilidades básicas que la mayoría de los niños conocen al entrar en la escuela. No sabía sentarse en una silla, tenía problemas de comportamiento e incluso había que enseñarle a ir al baño. Como gestora del caso de Norfranc, Leipold se encarga de crear su plan de estudios y

organizar su horario. También colabora estrechamente y ayuda a formar a los paraprofesionales que trabajan con Norfranc a diario.


Poco a poco, Norfranc fue aprendiendo a adaptarse a estar en una clase. Desde su llegada a SGS, ha aprendido habilidades como utilizar una cuchara y un tenedor, sentarse en una silla hasta 30 minutos y sabe que no debe escaparse del aula.


"Aprende despacio, pero una vez que lo consigue, lo tiene."


Adaptarse a un entorno de clase le ha permitido empezar a aprender más y más cada día. Está aprendiendo a reconocer las letras y puede contar hasta diez. Ha empezado a hablar una combinación de inglés y español y puede vocalizar más sus sentimientos. Incluso puede hacer un rompecabezas él solo.


Emily Varela es una paraprofesional que pasa el 50% del día con Norfranc. Habla español y ha sido capaz de identificar palabras adicionales en su vocabulario. Cuando Varela empezó a trabajar como paraprofesional, no sabía qué esperar y estaba nerviosa. Ahora se siente más cómoda y pasar tiempo con Norfranc le alegra el día.


"Me gusta venir a trabajar y pasar tiempo con él," dice Varela. "Me hace feliz poder ayudarle."


Aprender estas habilidades básicas le ha dado a Norfranc más confianza. Está orgulloso de cómo ahora puede ponerse en fila para ir a jugar afuera. Su nueva confianza ha hecho florecer su personalidad cálida y afectuosa.


"Sus compañeros le adoran," dice Leipold. "El año pasado, todos sus compañeros de Kinder le trajeron manzanas por su cumpleaños, porque es conocido por robar manzanas. Lo abrazan totalmente y son sus defensores al final del día. Lo quieren y lo adoran."


Norfranc pasa unos 30 minutos al día en un aula general, almuerza y sale al recreo con su clase. Ahora también asiste a clases de alfabetización bilingüe. Su equipo de educadores trabaja duro para asegurarse de que pase tiempo con los alumnos de su clase y no se pierda las partes divertidas de ir al colegio. Si su clase participa en actividades divertidas, como la fiesta de cumpleaños de un alumno, su profesora de educación general Jennifer Wiedel siempre se asegura de que pueda participar. También ha podido participar en todas las excursiones de este año. Su equipo de educadores trabaja conjuntamente para modificar la experiencia de modo que él pueda participar.


"Estaba muy por detrás de sus compañeros," dice Leipold. "Ha avanzado mucho."


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