Help Me, Funding-Won-Rayobi!

Help Me, Funding-Won-Rayobi!

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

Picture if you will: A small robot rolls into my office and suddenly a message comes forth.  Except take out the robot and make that my personal cell phone in another room and the message is the noise letting me know there is a voicemail.  This happens on a regular basis.  However, the message this time was different.  At the end of my work calls, I grabbed my cell and checked the voicemail.  It was a wonderful old friend who also was a long-time colleague (no, she does not have a hair style that looks like cinnamon rolls on the sides!)  She did though leave this brief message with a chuckle, “Help me, Funding-Won-Rayobi!”

When I called her back, we caught up for a few minutes and then she let me know the purpose for her call. “I am so sick and tired of people reaching out to me, telling me they know how to help spend my ESSER and other special funding opportunities, then proceeding to tell me about their only product. How can I best spend my funds and still support my teachers and students?”  I was shocked that she asked me that question.  She had been an administrator when I was still in that office and has continued to move into higher administrative positions while I moved into the consulting and supporting arena.  I asked her why she would call me on this question, and she responded with, “You’ve been in my shoes, and you have always been supportive when I needed something.  Plus, you give me solutions and ideas, not product placements!”

So, I started off by asking her some questions.  The first question which is something that we, as administrators, should be asking is, “Tell me about the difficulties your students with differing abilities are experiencing today and how those difficulties are similar or dissimilar to pre-pandemic times.” Her response to this one is something I have heard from many districts recently.  She began by talking about the literacy abilities of her students.  She spoke of how the movement to virtual classes interrupted the progress of many students and created significant challenges for her younger students, especially those who missed out on direct instruction during critical developmental times.

We then spoke about how ESSER funding could be used for just about anything for her students when it came to literacy.    For those students who were still struggling with literacy development, we spoke about manipulative products like Alphabet Pebbles, Alphabet Beanbags, Traceable Alphabet Shapes, and Letter Foam Magnets allowed for so many types of activities within classrooms for both individual students as well as groups.  If she wanted to go outside of the classroom and into the gymnasium or playground, she could also consider something like the BRAINBall™. Using manipulatives adds the physical dimension to learning and early literacy which many students need after virtual learning environments.

For students who were older, we looked at reading supports like the Reader Pen and Orcam Read as well as software like CaptiAssess and CaptiAccomodate.  The Reader Pen could create scenarios where her students who struggle with reading due to dyslexia or other issues could read their texts and paper tests right there in an inclusive classroom; giving a stronger sense of independence along with the ability to handle the information.  The Orcam Read could work in a similar manner and support students on computers or tablets; especially those with visual impairments or fine motor issues as well.  The Capti software family can reside on the school computers and be something that supports her students in all phases of learning, while constantly giving feedback to the teachers as well.

As we discussed these ideas, she asked about tools for access.  Access is huge for me as I am always encouraging schools to find the strengths of their students and use the tool for access which best fits each individual student.  Again, under ESSER funding as well as other standard special education funding sources, tools for access and communication are available.  I am a big fan of both Ablenet switches as well as switches from Enabling Devices.  I shared with her that Enabling Devices recently went to manufacturing their switches in a new manner creating more flexibility in how the switches can be tailored for schools as well as how they work.  With any switch though, the critical piece is to look at the student.  Do they need a standard switch like Specs or a Piko Button.  Do they need something along the lines of proximity like a Candy Corn, Honeybee, or Movement Sensor switch?  What about something more specific like a chin switch or a finger switch?  This is where I suggested that her AT team have a “testing kit” of several different types of switches that could be loaned out for evaluations and to order these kits through current funding.  I did suggest that she add into those kits a Glassouse alternative mouse and a head mouse for some of her more severe students.  Finally, I let her know that I will be back out on the road conducting AT Seminars again along with Jodi Szuter for schools to see and interact with many new and familiar technologies to review.  I always want schools to see the applicability of assistive technology to all spaces within a school to make them more inclusive and create a level of positive transparency around assistive tech.

Finally, she mentioned the need for sensory support.  She was worried that her OTs were being overworked as they were doing an amazing job of supporting so many students.  That is again happening throughout the country as OTs have been so critical in helping students reacclimate to the routines of the classroom.  She was also concerned that simply putting in a sensory room in a building would drastically limit how many students could receive proper support.  So, we talked about the creation of sensory spaces again using ESSER funds as well as other IDEA funding to bring in items which could be placed in multiple classrooms and shared with students throughout the day.   The critical piece I shared with her is that sensory inputs work to maintain wellness and create less anxiety allowing the focus to be on learning.  She and her team had been so focused on a single sensory room that they had not even considered “mini” sensory rooms throughout the school. 

I shared with her that the critical piece is to know the needs of the students through the insights of the teachers and not to be focused on only one product.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” technology.  However, there are many solutions that can be created for students that maximize the money being spent, and protect the schools for changing environments in the future.  She was grateful for that call and let me know that I will be invited to visit in the late summer.

In the same way, I am available to support all of you.  Feel free to reach out to me at for thoughts and ideas around your students.  We must be able to work together and see what will work for our students.  We cannot simply purchase things because we are told that they work under ESSER funding.  Many devices do fall under those guidelines.  We need to put together plans that look, not only at next year, but for years to come for our students.  In that way, we all benefit!


Posted in SH Special Education Today Newsletter