​Quality of Life Spotlight: William S. Baer School

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on June 27, 2022 # Quality of Life Grant Spotlight

Baer ActivityAs the longtime principal of the William S. Baer School, Zulema Sockwell Moore is determined to ensure that her students have access to the same opportunities as students at more affluent, well-funded schools. The Baltimore Public School serves 180 of the city’s most medically fragile children from ages three to 21, who live with a broad range of disabilities.

“It’s not easy being an inner-city public school, but Principal Sockwell Moore runs our programs like an elite private school,” says Erica Rimlinger, the Baer School’s director of development. “With 100% of our kids living below the poverty threshold, funding the resources our children need can be difficult.”

In 2020, the school received a $25,000 Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant to purchase and distribute new technology solutions. The funding enabled the school to implement Project Core, a new approach to using pictures and symbols to help children living with paralysis communicate through eye-gaze boards and other technology.

“Principal Sockwell Moore places significant emphasis on empowering children to express themselves and exercise their capacity to communicate at their individual level,” says Rimlinger. “The grant enabled us to serve more kids and create an environment that challenges students to reach educational and therapeutic success.”

In the past, teachers used passive communication to help students identify an object. For example, a teacher might point to a picture of a sandwich or apple to represent “lunch.” With Project Core, teachers use visual representations for verbs instead of nouns.

“Prior communications didn’t give the student any choices or opportunity to give input into their day,” says Rimlinger. “Now, instead of naming objects, Project Core allows children to identify feelings, describe their needs and actively participate in their daily routine. By teaching children to communicate their feelings, needs and desires, children can actively communicate.”

studentThe grant purchased ten iPads that can run the communication software, plus the equipment to attach the iPads to wheelchairs and assistive devices, 20 eye-gaze core boards with lock lines and 20 desks that can be raised to eye level.

“Before receiving the grant, we had limited access to the technology, and our students who used it would need to share,” says Rimlinger. “Now, all the kids who need these resources to communicate have direct access to it on their desks and wheelchairs.”

To date, the Baer School teachers have been able to serve 50 children with paralysis and may serve an additional 50 over the lifespan of the equipment. The equipment has impacted roughly 300 caregivers, nurses, educational assistants and teachers as well. The grant also came at a crucial time, right before the pandemic forced students to continue learning from home.

“Being able to bring Project Core directly into students' homes at the exact time the tools were unable to be shared in a classroom allowed more children to continue working when most were in danger of backsliding,” says Rimlinger. “The creativity of our teachers in offering all kinds of options for students and parents continues to astound us. Because of this grant, our kids continued learning, and it fostered relationships with parents and families to an unprecedented degree.”

Increased iPad and core board use for Project Core improved student engagement and enabled the staff to be more prepared than most schools for distance learning. The staff was also able to engage local volunteers to help assemble and demonstrate the core boards for families. The school had among the lowest missed days per student during the pandemic closing.

“Because of the interruption in learning, we have not seen the big 'bump' in student achievement that we anticipated from Project Core before the pandemic,” says Rimlinger. “However, we also did not see the backslide we anticipated as a result of the pandemic. Consistent student achievement during the hardest educational situation in living history is, frankly, a win for us.”

Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of the technology is that it enables the students to communicate with each other. Having the ability to actively share thoughts and feelings allows for a true expression of personality. For students like 20-year-old Carlos, who was paralyzed from a gunshot wound at age two, the technology is life-changing.

“Access to the technology has been an absolute revelation for students like Carlos — and, oh my gosh, does he have a personality. We’ve learned that he is a prankster with a great sense of humor. He is also a typical snarky teenager. These kids form crushes and cliques just like other kids,” says Rimlinger. “Without having this technology at home during the pandemic, many kids would have lost the ability to express themselves.”

Rimlinger continues, “We believe our students who have paralysis are capable of far more than what has been expected of them, and the Reeve Foundation's support for this project has shown us (their educators), the kids, their families and the community that this is indeed the case.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.