Learn and Serve Leadership Grant Awarded to ABA Students’ Early-Education Program for Homeless Children

Chicago School Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) doctoral candidates Anusha Subramanyam and Johnna Conley are bringing ABA classroom theory to life while making a difference in the lives of some of Chicago’s most at-risk children. With the help of a Learn and Serve Leadership Grant to teach preschool at a Chicago homeless shelter, Anusha and Johnna are providing this under served population with critical academic, social, and self-management skills essential for academic success.

The two doctoral students implement applied behavioral analysis approaches in the preschool classes—establishing early learning goals for each child and differentiating instruction to strengthen each child’s skill level. Because of the constantly changing classroom dynamic and inconsistencies in attendance among the homeless population, they’ve learned to be adaptive in classroom management and curriculum.

The teachers collect and graph individual student data to monitor skill acquisition and retention. If a student isn’t responding correctly to a lesson, teachers are urged to change their instruction or try a different approach.  “Instead of telling the student what they are doing wrong,” Johnna says, “we rely on positive reinforcement and modeling correct behavior to help these young children retain and apply skills.”

Anusha and Johnna are also providing Chicago School ABA master’s students a practicum training opportunity through the project. Students practice real-world application by teaching the young children an ABA-related curriculum. “The experience I gained was invaluable. I applied theories I learned in my graduate studies to the work I was doing with the children,” says ABA master’s student, Anthony Russo. “I was amazed at how quickly these young children absorbed new skills—they are like sponges.”

Establishing such a successful program that’s now expanding to other Chicago-area homeless shelters is a great accomplishment for Johnna and Anusha. “It is very exciting and rewarding that we were able to collaborate and start an effective program on our own that affects student learning in a positive manner,” says Johnna.

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