Nicoletta Ciampa is a first-year graduate student at West Virginia University in the College of Education and Human Services. She is studying to achieve her M.A. in Elementary Education with Certification and hopes to complete a graduate certificate in Interdisciplinary Disabilities Studies. With her Bachelors of Music, Nicoletta aspires not only to create and maintain a diverse and creative classroom, but to become a Nationally Board Certified Music Therapist in order to provide services and extracurricular activities to children with a variety of needs. She is particularly interested in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Behavioral Disorders, and Speech and Language Pathology. It is her hope to integrate her passions in order to provide better experiences in education and life to all who she encounters.
1. Please describe your activities during your fellowship experience. Describe your final capstone project(s).
I applied for the Diversity & Disability Fellowship in the fall of 2015 in my first semester as a graduate student pursuing a Masters of the Arts in Elementary Education with certification. The project description appealed to me as an educator with diverse backgrounds and an interest in promoting equity for all students. My Bachelor’s of Music and work experience following graduation left me with several interests that I never knew could intersect so seamlessly until my work and investigations with this Fellowship began. Initially, I thought it was a long shot to connect my interest in music therapy to my area of expertise and study, music and education respectively, but the pieces have come together slowly as a result of my work at West Virginia’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disability (UCEDD).
As a pre-service teacher, my studies include aspects of special education and multiculturalism. However, reading academic studies regarding these topics do not suffice in comparison to direct experiences and interactions with the children with disabilities and other professionals.
2. Who did your project inform, help, influence or impact? (UCEDD, individual, community, state) How?
I was able to interact with children with developmental disabilities through the UCEDD while attending the Next Steps and Feeding & Swallowing clinics, the iASD clinic, and journal club meetings. Additionally, I was able to observe an elementary special education classroom, a co-teaching environment, and music therapy sessions in the schools on a regular basis. Most of my experiences centered on elementary-aged students, however, I frequently observed and interacted with adult caretakers, service providers, and administrators. It was valuable to interact with and observe these adult members of the community since they are responsible for the critical support that initiates and maintains care, especially in special education and related services. From these experiences, I was able to connect and apply the materials I was learning in my SPED500 (Legal & Educational Foundations in Special Education) and in my DISB581 (Lifespan Disability Policy) courses. The result was a valuable lesson in service delivery and the extensive collaboration that is required to excel in it.
3. Why did you choose to work on that project(s)?
I became interested in the idea of using music therapy in an inclusive classroom without thinking that I would find such extensive research on the matter, and I definitely did not think that I would find research using general educators as providers. With these discoveries, my capstone literature review project began to come into focus. I knew that I was interested in inclusive classrooms, particularly with students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the challenges that they present to other students, teachers, schools, and related service providers alike. I also knew that, from experience, music has the power to unite a community and bring the best out in everyone; my hope was to champion musical collaborations and utilize this in the classroom.
I began my research by looking for two things: challenges presented in the inclusive classroom, and outcomes of music therapy with children with ASD. It was here that the picture became a little bit clearer. One of the most reported challenges in inclusive settings was establishing a social environment. Coincidently, there was a lot of research supporting the use of music therapy to improve the social development of children with ASD. I found that most research was based on studies of children ages 3-8, and used methods of direct delivery from a board certified music therapists (MT-BC) and secondary delivery where MT-BCs trained teachers to implement the interventions. This peaked my interest as a person who would like to be an early elementary educator and MT-BC, so I sought to make a point about pre-service teacher education in my conclusion of the review. The review also highlights frequently used models/techniques and expected outcomes.
It is my hope that this capstone project will be useful to people in the field of education and in the field of music therapy. As a pre-service educator, I know extensively what is and is not included in our training. Though this is specific to my program at West Virginia University, I know from other inquiries and studies that music-education for non-music education teachers is relatively low or ineffective and that music, a highly efficient tool in the elementary classroom, goes unused on a regular basis. Music is a particularly unique tool in that it is often labeled as a “universal human language” which can help bridge so many gaps- including language or cultural barriers and delays or differences in language expression.
4. What did you gain from being a Diversity Fellow?
My volunteer work with DISB682 was with two local establishments that serve people with disabilities. I started with Stepping Stones, a recreation center for people with disabilities, by volunteering with their Adult Life-Skills class. The class consisted of adults who already completed their public schooling and wanted to keep up with their skills in hopes that it can lead to gainful employment and better self-regulation. Each week there were different lessons, however, it was not a strict school environment. They participated in a variety of lessons and activities from “Mind, Body, and Soul”, a program dedicated to the importance of maintaining physical and emotional well-being, to brushing up on mathematical, reading, and writing skills with real-life scenarios. The program made great efforts to make sure that the activities were practical, age-appropriate, and would help the participants to lead better lives outside the walls of Stepping Stones.
My role as a volunteer was to support participation in the various activities. In doing so, I learned valuable lessons about the pedagogy that I was being taught in my own studies. Each time I was asked a question, I tried not to answer with the answer, but rather to help each individual find their own way to a solution. I learned that the methods we are taught, particularly within mathematics, are not always easily translated to people with disabilities. Despite the fact that these were adults who graduated with modified or regular diplomas, I faced the challenge to create new methods to help them succeed. Initially, it surprised me since a huge part of all the pedagogy coursework I’ve been in revolved around creating modified curriculum or adapting lesson plans, however, I quickly realized that general education pre-service teachers were not being taught the methods to accommodate learners with disabilities. It is assumed that the work and responsibility to train classroom teachers is solely that of the special education teacher within the school. While this is a lesson in the importance of effective collaboration in the workforce, I know that more education regarding students with disabilities could better prepare teachers.
When the adult life-skills course ended at the beginning of summer, I continued with Stepping Stones as a volunteer with their Summer Camp program. The summer program served people with disabilities from elementary school age through adulthood with a very wide range of exceptionalities in attendance. Naturally, the environment was much more relaxed, but the programming was designed to adapt to the needs and interests of the people served. I was drawn to the sensory program and provided aid on the days that I was present. Since the programming was not educational, I was free to make inquiries with participants and interact in a much more playful way. This freedom gave me insight into creative and relaxed behavior management; I was able to find atypical solutions to problems of disinterest and overstimulation, amongst others.
My other volunteer project was with PACE as a Music Therapy Student (MTS) under the supervision of Dr. Dena Register, WVU, and Amy Smith, of On a Better Note Music Therapy. With this, I had a chance to work with Music Therapy Intern (MTI), Haley Crane, and collaborated on session plans and post-session notes for two sessions each week. PACE is an occupational resource center for people with disabilities and music therapy sessions were part of the daily wrap-up twice per week. As my first experience providing music therapy services, it was initially intimidating to work with adults, however, I learned that the principles I observed in my previous training can be applied across the lifespan with moderate modifications. It was a valuable first experience and I look forward to continuing work with PACE and WVU music therapy.
5. How will this experience impact your education or career decisions?
It goes without saying that I am thrilled to embark on my journey in becoming a music therapist. I am even more thrilled to do this simultaneously with my elementary teacher certification.
6. What are your future goals? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
My goals are to bring these areas of expertise to an inclusive multicultural classroom, to address the difficulties that collaboration in the public schools brings by leading by example and encouraging fellow teachers to go out of their way to inquire with specialists and service providers. I hope that I will be able to advocate for music therapy in schools and be a resource for parents, students, teachers, and other service providers by encouraging conversation and collaboration. I know that at this point I am not an expert in either field. In fact, I am a newcomer, but by beginning these journeys in synchrony I think that I can continue to find overlaps in the fieldwork and use those discoveries to help others make the same realizations in hopes of creating efficient and effective services for people with disabilities.
7. What recommendations do you have for other fellows?
I would recommend to other fellows to utilize the LEND listserve to reach out, not only to others in your discipline throughout the United States but to all trainees who work in the field of disabilities. In addition, a strong and reliable relationship with my Diversity and Disability Fellowship supervisors made this experience go smoothly and helped me get the most out of it. I knew that I could consult with them when I doubted the value of my work and they would help me focus and clarify what my intentions and motivations were.