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Park Lane cluster class to write book to help other students with autism

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Park Lane teacher Linda Tognoni is the Utah recipient of Voya’s $2,000 Scholarship America grant that will give her students three iPads and a computer so they can write a book on how to demonstrate good behavior skills. (Jeannie Hill/Park Lane Elementary)

This school year, 15 Park Lane Elementary students will become authors, thanks to Park Lane teacher Linda Tognoni and Voya Financial.

Last spring when Tognoni heard about Voya’s $2,000 Scholarship America grant, “Unsung Heroes,” she immediately went to work writing and researching. 

“I wanted the grant to help my students academically, but also be an engaging way for them to learn,” she said.

In early October, Voya came to a faculty meeting to present her with the check.

“I was happy — elated,” she said. “Once our computer arrives, we will have it be dedicated to helping the students become authors and write a book on how to help others understand autism and for those who have it, ideas on how to improve their behavior.”

Tognoni, who came up with the idea, said it will help her own class identify their own ways to approach behavior.

“Each of my students has a different story and they may have different approaches on how they manage their behaviors. Kids with autism typically have lower maturity levels so they need to understand how to calm themselves and focus on their academics,” she said.

Tognoni knows this firsthand. At 18 months, her son was diagnosed with autism. He was in a preschool for autistic children by two years old and by third grade, he was declared autism free. Now, as an adult, he holds a high-level position with UPS and lives with his family. 

She also has been familiar with teaching students since 1979, including four years in Canyons School District. This past year, Tognoni was named Park Lane’s teacher of the year and the district’s runner up.

“I have good insight to it. I try to be on the cutting edge for children with autism and how I can help them,” she said.

This also includes recently receiving the Mountain America Credit Union and Utah PTA $1,500 grant for wobbly stools and a rug for her students.

“I researched and learned that the stools help with anxiety. We offer our students several different seating areas so they can choose the best to help them focus,” she said.

With the book project, her students will write under pseudonyms and address several chapters: I Can Follow the Rules, Work First Before Play, Oops Instead of Melting Down, Calm Myself and Be Happy, and Be a Problem Solver, not a Problem Maker.

The last chapter is their class motto. 

“We want students to negotiate and use their words, not have meltdowns and cry,” she said. “With the chapter about staying calm, we will brainstorm ways of being calm. Maybe one student will think of puppies or others will count to 20, take deep breaths and find a quiet space. Our desire is to create calmness and be happy.”

While Tognoni said that the concepts aren’t new, having students identify them and write about them is. Once students have written their methods, they will illustrate it before sending it to createspace.com to publish it. The book will be available on Amazon.

Tognoni said the process is important as well. Students will improve their writing skills, as that, along with spelling and reading, are often areas autistic students need to focus on the most. The iPads also will be put in use with reading, writing and math applications.

“It’s going to be good for our students to have a fun, personalized, engaging way to keep progressing academically,” she said.

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