Sharing best practices and promoting inclusive opportunities for students with special needs    
Executive Director's Message

Engaged Practice!

That parachute landed in my neighborhood about 20 years ago. It was a sign, a reminder of what I learned from Jon Kabat-Zinn. Jon said, "Mindfulness is like weaving a parachute, you want to be practicing weaving and packing it day in and day out; you don't want to be packing it right before you are about to jump."

Many years ago we adopted a core value that stated, "We believe in a culture that supports the practice of mind/body exercises for staff and students." As an organization, we have been practicing every day.

We had been practicing weaving that parachute prior to the shut-down and we have tried to call upon it for the past year. These mind/body practices work, but they need to be done consistently as a community. When we come out of this pandemic and our lives return to normal, we cannot forget that we need to keep on weaving. This is the practice.

As an organization, we made this a significant part of our training for staff and students. We wanted to take control of anxiety symptoms and we are committed to being an engaged organization that practices together.

We also need reminders to practice and to stop and breathe. That is why a community practicing together helps remind each other. When one person slows down, it positively affects everyone around them.

We want to be an engaged organization that doesn't just talk about how anxiety impacts our community members, we want to actually take action to learn and use strategies that are effective. Mindfulness is one of many strategies we use. We could provide a lot of data to support this, but the only way to know is to actually try it and feel it; that is the best data. We immediately feel the effects of regulating our bodies as we consciously breathe and go through a facilitated exercise which causes our heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones calm down. Even a 2-minute, stop and breathe can have a profound impact.

The challenge is to do it and do it often throughout the day.

Clinical Corner: Assertive Communication: What it is, Benefits, and Ideas for Implementation
By: Nolan Duchi

Everyday life is filled with moments of pleasure and stress. While the pleasures of life are preferable over the stressors, stress is an inevitable part of life. In stressful situations or when stress has been building up, it can be difficult to communicate the feelings associated with it. Assertive communication can be a useful style to implement in stressful moments to alleviate the tension that comes along in those conversations and moments. Additionally, assertive communication can be beneficial in non-stressful moments.

One of the main components that make up assertiveness is equality (Selva, 2020). Perspective plays a role in what each individual feels is fair in life, and conflicts and disagreements tend to arise when those perspectives are not shared or fully understood. Assertiveness helps others to better understand what one is thinking or feeling as it is a direct, firm, and positive manner of communication. It also is not about manipulating the situation in one’s favor and instead focuses on creating equality so that both sides can leave the conversation feeling better than when it started. Since it helps to create a level of mutual respect, it is considered a healthy and pro-social communication style compared to others.

Three other communication styles that have been identified are passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive styles. Passive behavior may be observed as shy or being overly easygoing and can be detrimental in that one’s needs and wants are not heard (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020). This can lead to increased levels of stress, resentment, seething anger, feelings of victimization, and a desire to exact revenge. On the contrary, is aggressive behavior. While those who act in an aggressive manner may find that they tend to get their needs and wants fulfilled more often, it also takes a toll on relationships with others. Aggression can undermine feelings of trust and mutual respect, which may lead to others resenting you or avoiding you. Lastly, a passive-aggressive communication style is one in which somebody says yes, although they really feel like saying no. Since this individual is not being direct about their feelings, they may start to feel more negative about a situation and display their feelings through their actions. Similar to aggressive behavior, passive-aggressive communication can also undermine trust and mutual respect in a situation.

Research has shown that there are many mental health benefits to adopting and implementing an assertive communication style. In one study of high school students where assertiveness training was conducted, results displayed decreased feelings in their anxiety, stress, and depression (Eslami, Rabiei, Afzali, Hamidizadeh, & Masoudi, 2016). Other research has shown that assertive communication can increase self-confidence and self-esteem, improve decision-making and communication skills, and help with emotional identification (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020).

Some individuals are more naturally inclined to behave assertively, while others are not. That is ok, as there are multiple ways to practice assertiveness! Seeing a professional around this subject can always be a resource, and there are also ways to practice individually. Some ways to practice individually include assessing your own current style of communication, using “I” statements (ie, “I feel… when…), practice saying no in role-play scenarios, rehearse what you want to say, use matching body language to aid in verbal expression, and starting small and building up (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020). Additionally, it helps to be mindful that there is a time and a place to be assertive, as life changes from day to day.

Like any other skill, assertiveness takes time to learn, understand, and implement. With continued practice and feedback, assertiveness can become a natural part of everyday living.


Eslami, A., Rabiei, L., Afzali, S., Hamidizadeh, S., & Masoudi, R. (2016, January 2). The effectiveness of assertiveness training on the levels of stress, anxiety, and depression of high school students. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from

Mayo, C. (2020, May 29). Stressed out? Be assertive. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from

Selva, J. (2020, September 14). The quick guide to Assertiveness: Become more Direct, firm, and positive. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from
"Cooking" During Covid
By Lisa Poirier, MS, OTR

As most of you know, much of what we do at LABBB pertains to the development of “hands-on” learning. Our students need this real-world experience to be able to refine and generalize their skills. One challenge during Covid is providing our students with these opportunities while following safety and pandemic protocols. Knowing that we would not be able to run traditional cooking groups, we have had to brainstorm and devise ways to be more creative in order to target our students' IEP goals. We have prioritized helping our students develop their executive functioning skills (planning, organizing and execution of a task) and fine/manual coordination skills. 

Ms. Pappas (our dynamic and creative speech therapist) and I discussed how we envisioned things, keeping in mind our limitations at school. Weekly, each class has the opportunity to participate in a 2 part cooking class. Part 1 is in person and Part 2 is all virtual. Dividing the cooking sessions into 2 parts has helped us pace and organize lessons each week. For Part 1, we use Pear Deck (a free Google extension) to help us coordinate teaching the “in-person” students at the same time as our virtual learners. Pear Decks are interactive slides where our students can draw, type and answer questions using their Chromebook. The slides are designed to foster executive functioning skills. For example, students are asked to organize ingredients, materials, and tools needed for the task. Additional slides are created to help students sequence the steps of the intended recipe that week. Menu items include english muffin pizzas, macaroni and cheese, tuna fish sandwiches, quesadillas, apple crisp, grilled cheese, veggie burgers, smoothies, oatmeal, eggs, blueberry muffins, french toast, nachos and trail mix. 

Part 2 is all virtual and resembles a cooking show on TV! The teacher demonstrates the recipe that was organized on Pear Deck earlier that day. Students have the option of cooking along with us, but this is not mandatory. We call upon what they did earlier in the day in a question/answer format on Zoom, which checks for learning and generalization. 

Periodically, we set time aside during Part 1 to complete a “Cooking Lab” which sets up opportunities for skill development such as cutting, using utensils or manipulating kitchen tools. For example, students have spread peanut butter, cut bread, used an apple corer and poured liquids during this time. Each student works at their own desk with their own individualized ingredients and materials to reduce cross-contamination. While we miss real time cooking in person, we have come to appreciate that we are still helping our students develop skills that they will need for the future.

I have included some Pear Deck slides so that you can get an idea of what we have been working on. The pandemic has stretched my comfort zone, but has helped me develop skills that I would normally not have worked on such as flexibility, creativity and technology in the classroom. Please let me know if you have any questions and I would be happy to help you out. 
Mindfulness and SEL
By: Crystal Kaloostian
I have noticed that in the midst of this year especially, it is important for us to take a moment and step away from academics and life skills. We have noticed a rise in anxiety and fear. There has been an increase in behaviors and nervousness around being at school or around others. What can we do to help? We need to take moments to breathe, build relationships, and comfort. You can do this by building times for Mindfulness and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) into your day .

In Mindfulness, we make sure we set time aside to look at how we are feeling and come up with ways to center ourselves. Soft, calm music, yoga, quiet walks, deep breathing exercises, and even coloring can all be used to help us relax our bodies and calm our minds.

Being mindful is about knowing how we feel at particular times and building time to allow us to step away from things that cause us to feel emotional and taking time for ourselves. This is a skill that is useful for anyone, anywhere.

So with Mindfulness in mind, we need to build up social-emotional learning, SEL. SEL is knowing what our emotions are and how they affect how we react or when we react. Knowing the Zones of Regulation ( Green - Happy, calm, Yellow - Nervous, Blah, Blue - Tired, Sick, Red- Angry, Excited) helps us identify where we are and how we react. When we are in the Green we are good and ready to work, the blue could make it hard to concentrate or work well, the yellow will make us build up and get worried, and the red means we can not concentrate at all. It is important for us to teach students to recognize their emotions, how they change what they can and can not do, and ways they can regulate themselves to get back to a working zone. Knowing things that relax them, wake them up, or excite them is a skill that they can use for any future endeavor and may even put them ahead of the curve of other people in the world.
Spring is in the Air at Fox Hill!
By: Mrs. Veguilla, Mrs. Waite, and Mrs. Melara
Our students here at Fox Hill have had a busy month. We started the month with Dr. Seuss’s birthday. To commemorate him we made “Things” from his most notable book, The Cat In The Hat. Each student put a little of their own personality into each art piece to make each “Thing” unique. 

From there, we participated in a door decorating contest. March is considered Read Aloud Month!  The theme of our door was from the book “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio. Each student was assigned a character to draw and color and then we placed quotes from the book around the characters.  

Next up, St. Patrick’s Day. As we do each year in my class, we go all out! As the saying goes, Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! My classroom enjoyed wearing their green beads, shamrock scarves, and lucky green top hats. The students also put a lot of thought into making leprechaun hats for art. This project made the students really think about ways to spread and/or how they spread kindness. Lastly, as luck would have it, spring has sprung! With the nice weather upon us, we have taken advantage of the outside. The students have enjoyed playing outside with their friends and on the playground. Our P.E. teacher has also chosen to have a few lessons outside as well. Who says you can’t bowl outside?  
By: Leanne Aiello

Affirmations are positive statements that help you overcome negative thoughts. In class, we start every day with our Morning Affirmations. This is a foundational piece in our classroom that has become so important to us all. When unwanted feelings arise in us, we remember our affirmations and they help to bring positive thoughts back into our mind! Our affirmations are put up around our classroom and we work them into our daily lessons.

In our History lessons, we have been learning about different historical figures that have left lasting impressions on our world; People like Martin Luther King Jr., Judith Heumann, Malala Yousafzai, and so many others. Their messages of positivity and strength always bring us back to our Morning Affirmations in class. We want to spread our messages out into the world like those incredible figures we have been learning about so, as a class, we have been donating to different organizations that are in need of help. We research the organization, find out how we can help them, develop a plan, and then take action!

Over February and March, we have been focusing on Boston Children’s Hospital. Luckily, we were able to meet and interview one of the staff members of Boston Children’s Hospital too, Dr. Cara Soccorso! She is the Attending Psychologist at Children’s. Dr. Soccorso generously Zoomed into our class so that we could ask her questions about her life and work. We loved it so much, she taught us a lot about what goes on at the hospital and how we can better ourselves in our daily life too. Dr. Soccorso loved our affirmations and was so kind to tell us her favorite affirmations that we decided to add to ours as well! A HUGE thank you to her for the kindness she shared with our classroom.
We found out that Boston Children’s Hospital takes artwork as donations so we jumped at the opportunity to bring some art into our lessons and chose to work on a project for them. Our Morning Affirmations were the first thing that came to mind when developing our plan. They bring us so much joy every day and we knew how much joy they could bring to those at the hospital. Students picked their favorite color and favorite positive word of affirmation and the piece came to life! We are so excited to donate a piece of our classroom to the brave Boston Children’s Hospital staff and patients. We hope it brings some joy and positivity into their worlds! 
Volunteering with Cradles to Crayons
By: Amanda O'Leary
 “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” -
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The LABBB Transition Department is charged with a variety of tasks as we prepare our high school aged students for life after high school. We want to be sure that they have the tools that they need to be as successful as they can be as young adults and beyond. This includes meaningful experiences in the community, such as practicing social skills in a restaurant, making a purchase in a store, getting a job in their home community, working with the support of LABBB community instructors, or participating in meaningful volunteer experiences.
LABBB has a large number of community partnerships, which include supported work options, as well as volunteer opportunities. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic this past year, it has been quite a challenge for our students to fully participate in many of these community experiences - many of our community partners remain closed or are working remotely. Some continue to have a multitude of restrictions still in place, which limits how many people they can have in their building or on site. Our transition counselors have been hard at work this year trying to be creative and find opportunities and experiences that are safe options for our students but are also meaningful.
One of our latest opportunities is a partnership with Cradles to Crayons, based in Newtonville. Cradles to Crayons was founded in 2002 in Boston and currently has two more sites in Philadelphia and Chicago. Cradles to Crayons' mission is to provide children from birth through age 12 with the everyday essentials they need to thrive - at home, school, and in play. This includes: clothing, toys, books, and school supplies. Their vision is to create a future free of childhood poverty.
Due to the pandemic, like many other organizations, Cradles to Crayons needed to adjust their model and how they operate. Typically, they would have hundreds of volunteers sign up to volunteer in person in “The Giving Factory,” which is a giant warehouse that houses all of their donations. One of the biggest tasks they have is to sort through items that they receive. Items need to be checked for quality, sizing, and more. During this time, they are “farming out” these sorting tasks - one can sign up to collect the items and bring them home to sort. Or in our case, to school!!! LABBB is now signed up to pick up items weekly and several high school classrooms across our program will sort through the items, with the support of visuals and staff. The items will be returned, all sorted, by LABBB staff and students, with new bags of items to be picked up for the next week.
Before they start the task, students will watch this slideshow: Cradles to Crayons Volunteer Experience. The slideshow explains the history behind Cradles to Crayons, as well as some videos and photos that show what it feels like to be at “The Giving Factory.” Then, the students glove up and start the sort. The particular task we currently have involves sorting clothing by type. Students need to do some quality control (is it ripped? any stains? is the item for a child or an adult?), as well as sort the items into seven clothing categories. Once everything is sorted and labeled, everything is re-bagged and ready to be returned to Cradles to Crayons.
Here at Lexington, students from a few classrooms have been participating in this experience over the past few weeks and they seem to be enjoying it and definitely see it as an amazing way to help our community! This is a great opportunity to share the importance and the need for volunteerism, while allowing for our students to have a teachable and meaningful experience. The hope is that this particular experience and partnership will continue long after COVID is gone!
A Welcoming Sign
By: Doherty Classroom, LHS

This year has been full of challenges for teachers and students alike. Certainly, we have learned many lessons in flexibility and patience! With the spring and vaccinations here, a sense of normalcy is slowly returning for students. Schedules are becoming less Zoom based and more community based again.

Community practice in the classroom and on campus, in the hallways and traveling routes at the high school, have presented a whole plethora of new community directional signs and rules for students to learn and follow upon our return to school. “Personal space” has paved the way for “social distance” and we never could have guessed that the terms “unmute” and “Zoom” would have found their way into our Life Skills curriculum. Students that went out to vocational sites before COVID, practice skills more often in the classroom. We practice bagging groceries, sweeping, washing tables and other functional skills. With some creativity and imagination, vocational opportunities have begun to resurface for our students. Mr. Callahan, Transition Counselor, has been instrumental in seeking out space on campus for vocational skills development. Students are learning many skills at LABBB’s new clerical site, currently housed in the cafeteria. With the nice weather and more students coming back for in person learning, the need to utilize our open spaces is increasingly important. Lexington Center has always been a gem in terms of learning opportunities for our students. The experience of applying skills learned in the classroom to the community is key for students in becoming as independent as possible. 

Adapting to the many restrictions of COVID, including having to wear a mask, has been a small hurdle for some students to overcome, however it makes having a mask break even sweeter!
LABBB Adapted Physical Education, Recreation and Social Opportunities

LABBB Recreation will have teachers send out emails to their students to sign up for a few after school programs that will start up in May. Be on the lookout for those emails.

We will also run another session of Zoom Bingo.

LABBB Graduation 2021 will be June 10th but the location and time is TBA. 

Remember to follow @LABBBREC on Twitter
Executive Director, Patric Barbieri, Hosts a Podcast talking about special needs planning and resources related to our community

In Episode #21 We have our first guest of the year and joining us is Brendan Aylward. Brendan has a degree in special education from Lesley University and owns Unified Health and Performance in Lancaster MA. Many LABBB students work out at his gym and he has created a unique culture in his gym integrating students with special needs with all gym members. Brendan's mission aligns with our mission in LABBB and he has the vision to continue to expand his business and offering more services and inclusive opportunities for students with special needs. He also created AdaptX which is a training program to become a coach for adapted fitness programs for athletes with disabilities and he talks all about it in this podcast. Click here to view Episode #21


LABBB Contacts
LABBB Collaborative
123 Cambridge Street, Burlington MA. 01803|