Hot Springs schools to implement ‘Picture Exchange Communication System’

Photo courtesy Jacquie Schniers

Board Certified Behavior Analyst and PECS consultant and trainer Jesseca Collins gives a presentation about the Picture Exchange Communication System to attendees at a training held at HSSD on Aug. 11 and 12. PECS is a unique, picture-based non-verbal communication system that the district will employ throughout all grade levels this school year.


By Marcus Heerdt

HOT SPRINGS – Last week on Aug. 11 and 12, the Hot Springs School District (HSSD) hosted Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) training, a unique, picture-based non-verbal communication system that the district will employ throughout all grade levels this school year.

“We have a lot of non-verbal students here in the district,” said HSSD Special Services Director Jacquie Schniers. “We’ve tried to implement different strategies over the past few years but they haven’t been as successful as we would like. I decided an intensive training session that puts all of our district’s special education staff on the same page with consistent implementation will ensure successful communication for our non-verbal students.”

A total of 18 people participated in the regional PECS training held in Hot Springs, which included HSSD special education staff members as well as attendees from other Black Hills area schools. Board Certified Behavior Analyst and PECS consultant and trainer Jesseca Collins traveled from New Jersey to Hot Springs to serve as the PECS instructor.

“It was a pleasure to work with the Hot Springs staff,” Collins said. “It’s clear they have a strong community and are dedicated to their learners. At the recent PECS training we discussed strategies for building and maintaining effective educational environments and teaching functional communication. This will benefit learners as the new school year begins.”

PECS training is offered by Pyramid Educational Consultants, a company based in Delaware, but also has global offices in countries such as Australia, South Korea, and Germany.

According to the company’s website, PECS is a non-verbal communication system developed in 1985 to assist students who “have various cognitive, physical, and communication challenges.” The overall goal of PECS is to teach “functional communication” by using pictures.

“I took PECS training as a special education teacher 12 years ago and it was life-changing in how I taught my non-verbal students,” said Schniers. “Implementation of PECS means we give our non-verbal students a voice. It allows us to teach them under a higher standard of excellence that will ensure they are given a voice while attending Hot Springs schools. Because all staff are being trained, it unites us with a common language and an understanding of what we all need to be successful and support each other when implementing the program in our schools.”

Schniers added that the district recently hired a new staff member, Stephanie Westinghouse, who is a speech-language pathologist and will help implement the PECS program in Hot Springs.

“Westinghouse is dedicated to the success of this program and will provide support to our teachers and paraprofessionals,” Schniers said. “She is excited about the training and implementing the PECS program with fidelity in the district.”

Fall River County Herald Star

EDGEMONT OFFICE: 410 2nd Avenue   Edgemont, SD 57735-0660 | 605.662.7201
HOT SPRINGS OFFICE: 334 S. Chicago St.  Hot Springs, SD 57747 | 605.745.3930
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