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Pace School Launches Groundbreaking PLAID Education Model for Older Students
By Nancy Kennedy

Picture your favorite plaid shirt, scarf or even a blanket. It’s undoubtedly colorful, and probably comforting in its orderly pattern of stripes and angles. Plaid pulls together different elements, with many colors and sizes of stripes, and weaves them together in a cohesive, crisscross pattern. At the places where the stripes overlap, new colors are created, and the whole becomes much more than its parts.

At Pace School, located in Churchill, PLAID is the ingenious name of a new education model that, much like the fabric, integrates different elements to create something new and wonderful. PLAID, which stands for Positive Learning and Integrated Design, is the most recent instructional model developed by Pace, which is known for its pioneering solutions and outstanding outcomes for students with disabilities. Since its beginnings 51 years ago, Pace School has been characterized by resourceful and creative thinking. That spirit has produced decades of growth and innovation that have had an enormous positive impact on students, their families and the community, and it continues to inspire Pace School in 2018.

PLAID is a holistic intervention and education model developed, piloted and researched by Pace.  According to Tricia Norris, Pace School development manager, it is intended to provide comprehensive services to an expanded group: students in high school and early adulthood, up to age 21, in order to improve their quality of life beyond the school years. “Nationally, 8% of students with disabilities drop out of school between the ages of 14 and 21; they make up 18-20% of all dropouts and they are less likely to find a job, earn a living, and enjoy healthy, independent and fulfilling lives. The reasons for this are many and complex. For students attending Pace, few services exist to fill the gap and facilitate the transition to adulthood.  The Pace PLAID program is designed to help these students have high quality lives by focusing on social emotional learning and academic skills simultaneously and preparing them to become good employees and members of the community,” she explains.

The PLAID program is conceptually original: it consists of an Instructional Design Framework that weaves specific character development traits into the academic program. In addition to learning math or reading, students are taught lessons in curiosity, empathy, enthusiasm, gratitude, grit, respect, responsibility and optimism. PLAID is a team effort, developed by Pace staff in collaboration with universities and supported by local foundations. In addition to the integration of character trait lessons into the academic program, the PLAID program utilizes hands-on, project based learning and a CREATE maker approach that provides opportunities to work with new technology and emphasizes STEAM careers – the basic STEM pathways, plus the arts.

“The teachers in the pilot program are embracing it,” says Tricia Norris. “The PLAID instructional design framework leads to character development in a very intentional way. Focusing on character traits and soft skill development is essential not just for Pace students but for all students. Through PLAID students focus on skills that are absolutely necessary to have success beyond our walls. By not teaching these skills in isolation and creating a framework that includes them in every lesson, it will make a real difference in kids’ outcomes and futures. The PLAID program is woven through our entire infrastructure.”

Pace School is a state licensed Approved Private School and Partial Hospitalization Program that serves over 140 children in more than 40 school districts in seven counties at their campus in Churchill. With an expert team of teachers, mental health and support staff and parents, Pace School has nurtured and educated thousands of students and helped them overcome challenges to create successful and meaningful lives. “We envision a bright future for our students,” says Tricia Norris. “The PLAID program is one more way that we are fulfilling our mission of helping our students thrive.”

To learn more about Pace School and the PLAID program, visit www.paceschool.org or call (412) 244-1900.

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