After the 6-year-old laptop he checked out from the PCC Transitional Studies Department stopped working, English language acquisition student Mohand Abdellou was able to secure an updated laptop to complete his beginning ELA Zoom class.

WINTERVILLE — Pitt Community College is set to become the first North Carolina community college to provide training specifically designed for individuals who work with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Starting with the 2021 Spring Semester, PCC will offer “EDU 149: Autism Technical Concepts” in partnership with Aces for Autism, a non-profit ministry established in 2014 to serve eastern North Carolinians impacted by autism. The three-credit course centers on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a common therapeutic model used to teach new skills and minimize certain behaviors in persons with ASD.

“At Pitt Community College, a big part of our job is workforce development,” said Melissa Rees, chair of PCC’s Early Childhood Education Department. “I feel strongly that our new ‘Autism Technical Concepts’ course will be a perfect complement to the Early Childhood program and provide our students with more marketable skills and employment options.”

For Rees, seeing “EDU 149” on the spring schedule marks the culmination of a yearlong effort that required extensive research, writing, editing and presentations to get the course officially approved by the N.C. Community College System (NCCCS).

“It’s been a labor of love, from a little wish to having it finally approved by the NCCCS office and then added to the schedule at PCC,” she said. “My sweet nephew, Archie, has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and I know from my family’s experiences the frequent difficulty in access to high-quality interventions. Most people I know love someone diagnosed with ASD and are seeking the best services possible.”

Though there is no cure for autism, which is aneurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in communication and social interactions, treatment of its symptoms often entails intensive behavior interventions, such as ABA, combined with speech, physical and occupational therapies. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the prevalence rate of autism in North Carolina is now 1 in 58 children, a 17 percent increase since 2012.

“We contacted various autism treatment centers in eastern North Carolina and heard again and again how hard it was to identify trained and qualified employees,” Rees said. “With the high rate of diagnosis in our state, it is inevitable that our students will work with children with ASD, and they need to be prepared.”

Students who enroll in EDU 149 this spring will meet virtually once a week and also fulfill weekly practical requirements at Greenville’s Aces for Autism Center. Rees said students who successfully complete the course can sit for the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Exam, a nationally recognized paraprofessional certification in behavior analysis.

Rees says there are many job openings in North Carolina and across the nation for individuals who have associate degrees in Early Childhood Education and/or RBT certificates. She added that salaries range from $12 to $24 per hour.

“I would recommend EDU 149 to anyone interested in working with children with ASD,” Rees said. “I can envision current Early Childhood students taking it as an elective, as well as professionals from a variety of fields — teachers, teacher assistants and psychologists, to name just a few — adding the class to build their resumes. It would also be ideal for parents of children with ASD, to help them ensure intervention strategies are practiced as often as possible.”

In addition to being an elective for students pursuing an associate degree in Early Childhood Education, Rees says “Autism Technical Concepts” is part of a new Autism Certificate at PCC comprised of five courses that total 16 credit hours.

PCC receives grant from International Paper Foundation

PCC has received a $4,000-grant from International Paper’s Grifton mill and the International Paper Foundation to purchase equipment Transitional Studies students need to access online learning.

According to Laurie Weston, director of Pitt’s Transitional Studies Department, the funding will be used to purchase laptops and other computer equipment, including webcams and mobile hotspots, to ensure students can participate in virtual instruction during the coronavirus pandemic. She said a portion of the grant monies would also go toward equipping transitional studies instructors with dual monitors that allow them to teach proficiently as they work remotely due to COVID-19.

Weston thanked International Paper for its support of the college’s Transitional Studies students, who she says typically must overcome multiple barriers to achieve their educational goals, even when circumstances are normal.

“With such a great reliance on distance learning due to the pandemic, our students are encountering an increasing number of obstacles that threaten to keep them from progressing and succeeding with their studies,” Weston said. “The funds provided by International Paper allow us to secure technology that enhances student access to our distance learning and internet-based instructional programs.”

Weston said the technology will also allow instructors to meet more often with students virtually and with improved internet stability. It’s a combination she says will help students “stay focused and on target to meet their goals,” so they can ultimately join the workforce with a higher skill level.

Started in 1952, the International Paper Foundation is part of International Paper’s effort to be among the world’s most successful, sustainable and responsible companies. Each year, the organization provides millions in grants to assist nonprofit organizations with addressing critical needs in the communities in which its employees live and work. Funding priority is given to programs related to the foundation’s signature causes: education, hunger, health/wellness, disaster relief, and initiatives that improve the planet.

For more information on the foundation, visit ipgiving.com.

Contact jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.