Source-Align-Develop-Retain Special Needs Students

Our Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries

How do we learn and what is the role of technology: 

A Kennedy Space Center perspective? 


May 17, 2020

Learning is at the core of how we perceive life and interests. How do we learn? 


There are a few techniques as described in the expanded edition of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School published in 2000 by the National Academy Press.

 

The knowledge of how people learn can be divided into five techniques:

1. Inquiry based – cases, problems, projects and learning by design

2. Skills based – isolated drill and practice, contextualized practice and modeling

3. Lecture based – oral, written and narrative videos

4. Individual vs. Group – self-study, cooperative learning and jigsaw learning

5. Technology-enhanced – simulations, electronic tools, assessment opportunities and communication environments


Is one technique superior to the other? Evidence suggests that this is the wrong question to ask and it is similar to asking the mascot, Super Mario from Nintendo fame, whether a wrench is superior to a screwdriver in his job as plumber for the past 30 years. We would all agree that leaking pipes can be fixed using a tool that is best suited for a specific circumstance.


A core set of learning principles will guide the selection of teaching strategies and students’ abilities to acquire organized sets of facts and skills are enhanced when they are connected to meaningful problem-solving activities such as real-world problems solved by teams with complimenting skill sets.


Today we stretch human imagination and invention in space exploration beyond putting humans on the moon, but on Mars. What does it take? 


A History of Kennedy Space Center authored by Kenneth Lipartito and Orville R. Butler published in 2007 by the University Press of Florida, poignantly describes organization, management and engineering and how it applies to operations (wrench turning) and learning at Kennedy Space Center. 


Operations have been crucial to NASA’s success and the space program since the earliest days when Kurt Debus was the first Kennedy Space Center Director. Operations can be even better when maintenance departments reveal problems often overlooked by designers and builders and hence an ear to the ground by space company CEO’s can be fruitful for even more efficient, safer future technologies.


Organizations must have talented people on the job and in operations as learning comes from doing and not textbook studying. How do you select a candidate that can learn on the job? 


Innovation is at the core of space exploration and students of technology depicts two types of innovation: incremental and radical. Incremental innovation involves improvements in existing technology systems, processes and methods and radical innovation involves a break from the past with new machines, methods and procedures. Existing organizations are often good at incremental innovation, but newcomers are often the only ones with a clean enough slate to achieve radical innovation.


The space program requires barrier-free operational and design cultures with no tension between them to prevent disasters such as the Challenger.


How do you manage knowledge within your organization? What is your candidate selection process? What interview questions do you ask candidates? 

5 Things That Should Be Done to Improve the US Educational System - an interview published January 23, 2020 in Authority Magazine

April 19, 2020

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this career path?


I launched A-Plus-Consulting, the parent of A-Plus Apprentice, in 2014 in Newark, NJ at a New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) incubator space. While in the incubator I was approached for a donation to a local school with a high percentage of autistic students. That is the moment when I realized the magnitude of the problem and thought about how my company can help autistic students and their families.


Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?


People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience emotions differently from non-ASD people. One of my most profound moments came during a conversation was with a friend’s ASD child, a boy who hardly ever smiles. While taking a “selfie” with him, he saw his face on the smart phone screen and smiled a huge grin. This a-ha! moment demonstrated the possibility of breaking through the autism curtain.


When I realized how important it is for ASD people to have careers, I initiated discussions with ASD educators to vet the idea of digital marketing as a career for ASD students. At the time, digital marketing was not listed as an occupational title with the United States Department of Labor. Most recently, it has been added and is one of the curriculums offered by A-Plus Apprentice.


Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, our team has adopted some Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Training methods and has brought them to public and private schools under the authority of the Department of Education. In doing so, we have for the first time built a bridge between the two agencies to foster efficiency, collaboration and communication. To quote Executive Director Dr. Regina M. Peter of Newmark High School, “Apprentice programs as a training method have a long, successful history. Customizing Community-Based Instruction (CBI), Person-Centered Approaches (PCAST) and Career Technical Education (CTE) programs from the Department of Education (DOE) with the addition of Registered Apprenticeship curricula from the Department of Labor can accomplish the goal of smart, reality-based transformation in schools,”

We addressed the State Board of Education in New Jersey during an open topic session during May 2019. Below, I have extracted portions of our address:


“YOU are the decision-makers and policymakers with the power to transform education in the state of New Jersey. That is why I am here to discuss our pioneering A-Plus Apprentice program.

The Registered Apprenticeship program is our student-centric venture that matches high school students (18-21 years old) diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with appropriate employers for apprenticeships.

To date, we have recruited 50 students from two counties for the A-Plus Apprentice program which customizes curricula based on student skills with the assistance of school principals, SLE teachers, job coaches and other special needs staff using student Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Our first concentrations are in graphic design, digital marketing, e-commerce specialist and cashier roles, with more to follow.

We leverage government resources and infrastructure by providing our program in-school and not after school. In some school districts, art teachers are often the first to be cut from school budgets. We can fill that void for students.

The Boggs Center at Rutgers University partners with us to provide training for employers to help them understand hiring and employing people with disabilities.

Our instructors give 144 hours of related technical instruction, and apprentices work 2000 hours per year, supervised by schoolteachers and an employer mentor in the school. After completing our program, each apprentice earns a designation from the Bureau of Apprenticeships, a federal agency.

The problem of unemployment and underemployment among autistic adults also has a huge economic cost. The annual cost of autism is estimated to be $126 billion in the US, a number that has more than tripled since 2006. The diagnosis rate in New Jersey continues to outpace the rest of the nation with 28 autistic preschoolers per 1,000 as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Primary caregivers, typically mothers, are called upon to serve as their children’s case managers and advocates, and on average, earn 56 percent less than mothers of children with no health limitations.

There is no cure for autism. Only fifteen percent of those with autism have full-time jobs, while nine percent work part-time. Thus, there is a high unmet need for employment and suitable careers.

State rules mandate that when students who have been attending specialized private schools turn 18, they must then return to their original public schools. Many students resist the change. The solution? With A-Plus Apprentice, students can remain in their familiar schools. Bonus; they receive individualized training in our earn-while-you-learn program.

Advocates for children with disabilities are cheering a 2017 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court involving an autistic student. In establishing more-ambitious academic standards for special education students this represents a clear win for the modernization that I am promoting here and now. (End of extracts from Board of Education address).

It should also be noted that there is a week dedicated in November to celebrate Apprenticeships nationwide.


Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

I created a for-profit business model to solve a huge education problem which has not been completely addressed by non-profits. Our methodology has been heartily supported by both educators and parents as a viable way to produce careers and life paths for ASD youths.


Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?


Regardless of any accomplishments of the US education system, there is a gap in public school programs that focus on careers for autistic students.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going great?

I did not attend school in the US, but I can say that online courses make it easy to study and learn at one’s own pace. To further answer your question about five areas, I have summarized some comments from data scientist Andreas Rhode below.

1. Inclusion:

Generally, schools accept all children within a district, no matter academic merit or special need. An exception is so called public “magnet schools’ that are selective depending on specialization, for example in STEM or the arts.

2. Variety and local focus:

Public schools are run by local districts and reflect the make-up of the community it serves (that can be both a good and a bad point, especially where it leads to economic segregation). Tuition free publicly funded and privately-run charter schools can offer an alternative special customized program. Private schools are relatively common balancing out the public system.

3. Focus on the individual student:

Especially at the high school level US schools offer courses at different levels of difficulty and academic depth, including so called “honors”, “AP”, and “IB” distinctions. Some schools offer English as a second language or even bilingual programs. Students can mix and match according to personal interests and academic strength.

4. Focus on community:

Schools encourage and sometimes even require students to be involved in clubs, serve volunteer hours, perhaps with a local foodbank, hospital, or just by tutoring classmates that need extra help. The school is seen as a community rather than just a location that delivers instruction.

5. Counselors:

There are counselors separate from teaching staff with the sole focus to assist individual students with course selection, personal issues, college application and career choices.


Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?


Rather than identifying five areas, I will focus on autism spectrum disorder education in public and private schools with A-Plus Apprentice as a solution for even better outcomes.

1. Implementing A-Plus Apprentice statewide and nationwide rather than locally can have significant impact on the lives of parents and ASD students by providing real-world careers and life paths.

2. A-Plus Apprentice improves communication and coordination between the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Education (DOE). We match students’ Individual Education Plans from the DOE with training methods from the DOL for customized training.

3. We leverage government resources by providing our training in school rather than after school. Our business model is sustainable with little need for donations, while non-profits carry a huge financial burden to increase capacity and then find themselves running out of space for more students.

4. An A-Plus Apprentice student earns a wage while in school working for an employer. The possibilities of continuing with full-time employment after graduation increase significantly because employers select students for hiring and training early on and bond with them.

5. Matching training needs with community-based hiring needs has a positive impact on the local economy and job growth.

6. Our long-term vision goes beyond education. In addition, with parental consent, we want to examine genetic profiles of ASD students to find medical solutions.


How is the US doing regarding engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?


In June 2016, I published the article below, “Four Top Issues Causing Imbalance in Tech Hire Supply and Demand” which can be found on my LinkedIn page.

Technology comprises 40% of the GDP in the United States of America according to the Department of Commerce, however there is a big imbalance in the supply and demand of technology talent in the workplace. The Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Department of Labor states that employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. These occupations are expected to add about 488,500 new jobs, from about 3.9 million jobs to about 4.4 million jobs from 2014 to 2024, in part due to a greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, more everyday items becoming connected to the Internet in what is commonly referred to as the “Internet of things,” and the continued demand for mobile computing.

GE launched a digital TV campaign written about by Kevin O’Neill earlier this year in Data Center Spotlight, highlighting the tech talent supply and demand imbalance. “A multi-million-dollar marketing campaign shows that GE has to pull out all the stops to attract top-notch talent to their GE Digital division. With a growing need for infrastructure, cloud, and data center employees, most employers are very likely to take on and “coach up” a smart person with a capacity for the work and a willingness to learn. Developers, web engineers, and other technologists don’t exactly grow on trees, and they are in demand given the limited supply of capable, skilled workers.”

A-Plus-Consulting LLC has been immersed in the technology sector for a few years with various stakeholders and identified 4 top issues in the tech hire space:

1. Complexities with the process to obtain work authorization for international students studying in Business, Communication and STEM-related fields. The students I have personally worked with bring exceptional skills having worked for big names such as Accenture and Microsoft in countries of origin and they work extremely hard. The F1 visa status requires them to have a job offer to apply for curriculum practical training while studying, however the hiring process and technology prevent them from applying for jobs because it is a chicken and egg situation – which one comes first?

2. The technology field is a fast-paced environment and it takes time for higher education institutions to adapt to new requirements for skills in demand, hence some employers hire experts to train their employees on-site to meet their talent development goals.

3. Lack of diversity in the technology sectors as reported by Elizabeth Weise and Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY, October 13, 2014 – “As technology becomes a major engine of economic growth in the U.S. economy, tech companies are under growing pressure to diversify their workforces, which are predominantly white, Asian and male. Leaving African Americans and Hispanics out of that growth, increases the divide between haves and have-nots. And the technology industry risks losing touch with the diverse nation — and world — that forms its customer base.”

4. Higher education institutions and tutors are not held accountable for students graduating to get placed in a career matching their education and students are often underemployed.


Can you articulate to our readers why it's so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

This is a situation of Men are from Mars Women are from Venus depicted by John Gray in his best-selling book. Dr. Gray illustrates how differences in communication styles, behavior, and emotional needs can drive the two sexes apart, and offers ways to help keep them together.

Women bring different perspectives to the workplace and may have different solutions to solve problems. A larger problem, however, is that for many years there were invisible and unspoken barriers to women entering the sciences.


How is the US doing regarding engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?


1. It should be introduced during high school. Many students say they don’t know about these STEM career options. I was fortunate to have elected Computer Science in high school where I learned to code.

2. Women often leave the workplace to start families. Employers can retain female employees by providing on-site childcare facilities where mothers have access to their children.

3. Remote employment will allow them to stay home and still be around for the kids. Measures of workplace performance and productivity assure good company outcomes.


As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math’s) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?


I firmly believe in adding “B” for Business to the equation to have #B_STEAM. Entrepreneurs such as Mark Cuban say that students in the humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media fields will enjoy long careers while STEM students will see their jobs go to robots and AI. It does not help to have a STEM career without a sound understanding of business principles. Hence the addition of the “B” to STEAM.

Employers such as Apple hire employees in the arts fields because they add creativity to the workforce. I stand for #B_STEAM and embrace Business, STEM and the Arts.


If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?


This question is so similar to the one you posed earlier in the interview that all I can do is repeat the answers I gave to the prior question.

Rather than identifying 5 areas, I will focus on autism spectrum disorder education in public and private schools with A-Plus Apprentice as a solution for even better outcomes.

1. Implementing A-Plus Apprentice statewide and nationwide rather than locally can have significant impact on the lives of parents and ASD students by providing real-world careers and life paths.

2. A-Plus Apprentice improves communication and coordination between the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Education (DOE). We match students’ Individual Education Plans from the DOE with training methods from the DOL for customized training.

3. We leverage government resources by providing our training in school rather than after school. Our business model is sustainable with little need for donations, while non-profits carry a huge financial burden to increase capacity, finding themselves running out of space for more students.

4. An A-Plus Apprentice student earns a wage while in school working for an employer. The possibilities of continuing with full-time employment after graduation increase significantly because employers select students for hiring and training early on.

5. Matching training needs with community-based hiring needs has an impact on the local economy and job growth.

6. Our long-term vision goes beyond education. In addition, we want to examine genetic profiles of ASD students with parent consent to find medical solutions.


Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote"? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?


I like to say, “Aligning intuition with creative thinking is the most effective way to shift paradigms.”

Our A-Plus Apprentice program is an example of combining intuition and creativity to establish large change. The program is the first and only solution to help ASD students while in school with a simple, yet powerful solution for transforming education and improving the lives of those with ASD.