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FRONTLINE: Doing Good With Randi Rentz

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Breaking Through

Understanding the subtleties of communication is essential in developing relationships and communicating effectively. But for anyone living with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, even the simplest interaction can be fraught with anxiety and confusion. “When people can’t quickly and efficiently read and adapt to social cues and intuit the hidden rules that surround them at every turn, there’s an element of danger—especially for children,” says Randi Rentz, an Asperger support teacher at Worrall Elementary School in Broomall. “This deficit brings deep and lifelong challenges that impact their lives in a multitude of ways.”

To help kids navigate social waters more independently, Rentz devotes the bulk of her curriculum to real-life communication skills, something she describes as complex and challenging yet incredibly rewarding. Her innovative Action 7 program transforms students into anchors, reporters and cameramen as they investigate potential stories. The year-end goal is a DVD newscast “aired live” in a Hollywood-inspired premiere for fellow students, teachers, parents, community members and actual news reporters. Research, reading and writing skills are intertwined with role-playing, rehearsals, set design and filming activities to correlate with goals and objectives noted on a student’s Individualized Educational Program. Students also visit a local TV news station to get a taste of what it’s really like on the set.

“They have to constantly adjust their social behavior to the demands of each person they come in contact with and each area they walk through,” says Rentz of the field trip.

Overall, she says, “I wanted the project to enhance expressive language, written language, life skills, social skills and, ultimately, confidence and independence.”