A Week of EnviroMagic

Kia ora! For the last three months I have been lucky enough to intern at GKTC, where I have been learning so much. All the way from little old New Zealand! What an honor it has been to be welcomed so warmly and given the opportunity to communicate with the spellers in the community… what a bunch of superheroes, seriously!

During the summer institute, I have lead a couple of sessions on topics I am passionate about. We had a plantastic time over the last couple of days – exploring both artistic and scientific ways of experiencing nature. I asked the guys for their experience of and thoughts about nature. They told us about the serenity of evening fireflies and their sensitivity to nature’s happiness, and shared thoughts about our human relationship to the cycles of the earth, which as Ian pondered, seem to be equally influenced by the other.

On day one we learnt about how the neurologist Oliver Sacks advocates for the use of gardens, nature, music and art for his patients. We read about the history of two art forms that complement nature exploration – cyanotypes (the first photographic method created without the use of a camera) and haiku! This inspired us to get in touch with our creative sides, utilising (that’s the New Zealand way to spell it, not a typo!) the native flora outside GKTC to make some stunning works of art. Take a look at what they made:

On blue stained linens

Two leaves embrace another

The sun soaked lovers. 

(By Ian Nordling)

Three leaves sit silent

To crave relief sit patient

Gust of wind to dance

(By Jack Haynes)

Rain falls, tall trees rest

A stream resists, water 

Assists. This is life. 

(By Adam Farrell)

On day two, our new bff local arborist extraordinaire, John Dudzinsky, took us on a guided walk through Runnymede park. He totally schooled us on the ecosystem! Ian wanted to know how many trees John had planted in his time, to which John simply chuckled. Too many to count! He has to offset his big carbon footprint, he said. The guys shared some beautiful descriptions of a carbon footprint, or as Adam put it, “the leaving of our presence on the earth.” What kind of trace do you leaf? A topic we’ll be diving into deeper next week!

Our Runnymede classroom included caressing skunk furs, holding some fox skulls, sniffing many divine fragrances, eating some sour wild blackberries and collecting specimens, including the not so slippery ‘Slippery Elm,’ a rather scratchy type of leaf. Oh nature, you are just so weird and wonderful!

Afterwards, we got up close to explore the textures as we experimented with our last art technique of the week, frottage – an abstract surrealist art method of capturing whatever surface lies beneath the paper.

Finally, we worked on our gift to thank John for his generosity – a cyanotype of all our collected materials from the walk. But if you happen to run into him, please don’t mention it! He is with us for one session yet to come, where he help us to plant some trees. And plus, we still have to write him a poem to match. So come along this week or be sure to follow closely online to upskill your environmentality and be inspired by whatever else our speller masterminds create.

With love,
Ruby

Tribe Honors the Mothers of the Spelling Community

In March, members of Growing Kid Therapy Center‘s Tribe began planning an art project honoring their mothers, and the mothers and motherly figures of the spelling community. They decided to focus on plants for the image that would be recreated with donated recycled materials, and the brainstorming began with coming up with words to describe their moms: protective, tireless, gentle, fierce, and vibrant. They researched different types of plants and what they represented, and settled on the yellow cactus flower, and wrote the following dedication.

They began by soliciting donations from the GKTC community for various recycled materials, and once the donation began pouring in (thank you parents and community members!), devoted time each week to painting and embellishing their individual canvasses. After months of hard work, they came up with ideas for a reception where the artwork would finally be revealed, including a photo booth complete with flower bouquets, bunting, tea, and cookies and other treats! Invitations were sent out, and on Monday the big reveal FINALLY took place!

To say the mom’s were delighted would be an understatement! If you find yourself at GKTC, make sure you have a stop in Phoenix to admire the hard work and amazing creativity that went into this collaborative art project.

Check out more photos of the mom’s and members of Tribe below!

Tribe Spreads Love

TRIBE CONTINUES TO GIVE! The Tribe are nonspeaking young adults who meet weekly at Growing Kids Therapy Center and who use spelling as a form of communication and are all highly fluent in their ability to communicate. Growing Kids Therapy Center is dedicated to teaching non-speaking, minimally speaking and unreliably speaking individuals how to Spell to Communicate (S2C). The staff at GKTC is a multidisciplinary team who meet the needs of our clients with motor and sensory differences. We believe that communication and motor control leads to autonomy, independence and inclusion.

Members of the Tribe with their completed Valentines!

Over the recent holidays, Tribe expressed an interest in doing a philanthropic project, and they made and sold holiday cards, as well as organized a toy drive. They partnered locally with The Barbera Foundation, whose mission is to promote positive change by inspiring others to engage in the community and help those less fortunate, and became one of their top donors by donating the majority of the money raised to their Bikes for Tykes program. In addition, they also donated toys to Cornerstones in Reston, and made a cash donation to a local family who lost everything in a house fire. These are individuals who desire greatly to make a positive impact in our community, and this drive was only the beginning!

Tribe is currently partnering with the Barbera Foundation for the 10,000 Valentine’s: Independent Initiative.  The goal is to deliver 10,000 Valentine’s Day cards to disabled vets, active duty military stationed overseas, children who are currently hospitalized, and homeless people living in DC.  

Tribe has been working for the past two weeks to design and prepare to make six different cards with members of the community (spellers and their communication partners, community members, friends and family!), who were invited to the GKTC office this Monday between 1:30pm and 4:00pm to assist them in this endeavor. Each member of the Tribe picked a design for a Valentine and made a prototype.  The room was divided into four stations, and members of the Tribe worked with our visitors to make the cards, come up with the greetings, and write them inside the cards. We had a wonderful turnout, and far exceeded our goal of making 50 cards.  Visitors included parents, siblings, friends of the community, and a representative of the Herndon Town Council. At last count over 120 cards had been made. These cards have been designated to be delivered to veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Tribe, Janine, Meghann, Kelly and Elizabeth


Tribe Gives Back

TRIBE GIVES BACK! This year, the Tribe, a group of GKTC’s nonspeaking young adults, decided they wanted to devote their time and work to community philanthropy. Their efforts have been impressive.

First, the Tribe held a toy drive at GKTC and collected over 3 boxes of toys which they delivered today to Cornerstones in Reston, Virginia. Cornerstones will provide gifts for more than 1400 children this year. The Tribe met with the Cornerstone staff who were hard at work, putting bundles of toys and presents for local families. 

The Tribe also made ornaments which they sold at GKTC, raising $225 which they are donating to Bikes for Tykes through the Barbera Foundation. Tribe is already planning on future collaborations with the Barbera Foundation. 


Finally, the Tribe heard about a local family who has recently lost their home to a fire. The Tribe unanimously voted to donate the proceeds from sales of their literary magazine, In Words We Trust, to the family. 

At Growing Kids Therapy Center, we are grateful to the Tribe for reminding us that the true spirit of the holidays comes from GIVING.  

Happy Holidays!

~The Tribe, Janine, Meghann and Elizabeth 


Shelby’s Blog

We have been so grateful to spend the last 6 weeks with Shelby Watson, our fabulous Australian intern! Shelby was so eager to learn how to teach nonspeaking individuals to Spell to Communicate (S2C) that she packed up her bags, hopped a plane and embraced American life and clinical skills as a participant in our Accessing Community Through Spelling (ACTS) Professional training and an extended internship.  Shelby’s internship has come to an end but she has left a lasting impression on our hearts! We are excited for the lucky Aussie kids who will get to work with Shelby! Enjoy Shelby’s write up about her experiences at GKTC and with American culture. ~Elizabeth

From missing home, to eating crickets on my first day, to getting abs and a sore throat from screaming so much in my first ever haunted house to working with children and adults alike who have taught me more than I’ve ever learned before, it seems impossible to condense the last six weeks into one blog post. And yet, I’m going to give it a red hot go.

So, where do I begin… Well, let’s start at the start. I decided a while ago to embrace every opportunity and run with it. Needless to say, when I was offered the opportunity to partake in the ACTS Professional Cohort and internship over in America at Growing Kids Therapy Center, I could not resist. No matter what, I just had to make it work and so I did – 4 weeks later and I found myself on a 26-hour adventure… From car to plane to plane to plane to car to finally arriving in Herndon, Virginia safe and sound. I had made it, phewf!!

I think it would be a little bit too much to explain every adventure that came to follow throughout my little journey. One thing I will mention though is that I got the chance to experience a full-fledged Halloween with carving pumpkins and a ghost tour through Old Town Alexandria, which was kind of spooky and kind of weird but interesting all the same and I also got to explore through the scariest haunted house ever, which frightened the heeby jeebies out of me. And last but certainly not least, I got to see 407 trick-or-treating children knocking on the door eager to receive full-size ‘candy’ bars on the night of Halloween.

And believe it or not, there were many more things that I saw even more incredible than this. I spent day after day in the clinic at GKTC mostly 9am – 6pm days, 5 days a week; observing and learning, regulating and designing, as well as taking one-on-one sessions and leading the way in a couple of groups. In any other setting such a day could be considered boring or long, but not these ones. I would describe them in much a different manner like incredible or mind opening or just WOW. The most amazing thing about it was that every hour was different and every day I got the chance to observe and learn a little more. Many of the days left me speechless and lost for words.

The thing is, as much as society tries and tries, we cannot and should not try to define each and every human with a label for this and a label for that; so often these labels misrepresent people into something they are not. Simply put we are all human and whether we agree or not, we all deserve a voice and we all deserve the right to be heard. I have always had such a mindset but seeing the intelligence and the looks of determination and gratitude in each of the kids’ eyes made me begin to understand that there are no limits to what is possible.

As Ian concisely put it – “EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE.”

In the past six weeks the insights I’ve gained are abundant and incomparable to anything else I’ve ever experienced but I think the most important thing that I have come to really truly realise is that this world is totally upside down, but all it takes is a different perspective to turn a situation around. Think of it this way, when the world seems doomed and seems to be coming crashing and tumbling down, remember when we see a shooting star we make a wish. As it soars through the sky on practically a collision course, we see a spark of hope, we see light and we simply wish.

Ryan –

“MY THREE WORD MOTTO WOULD BE
HAVE FAITH ALWAYS.”

 

 

~Shelby

A Myth of Giant Proportions

When I first started working at Growing Kids, I worked with students who were brand new to Spelling to Communicate, as well as some who started with Elizabeth beforehand. Over that time, skills began to build, goals were being met, and fluency was increasing. For the students and for myself, as well! Doing a regular, ol’ lesson was getting too easy. We ALL needed a new challenge!

Mythology has always been one of my favorite topics, and I found that it also was a great way to get students to be creative in their own writing. There is always an interesting explanation of natural phenomena, like the changing of the seasons or how fire was created for man. Most importantly though, there is a moral to every story, a lesson to be learned. I was not quite prepared for the lessons my students taught me with their very own “mythology”. You’ll see what I mean.

With every lesson we do, there is always a “creative writing” question at the end. It’s a chance for the speller to express his/her thoughts on the topic. It’s a chance to be creative. This is always my favorite part of the lesson – personalities really start to shine! One of those personalities, is that of my dear friend, Alex.

FullSizeRender

Alex is 17 years old and types on a held keyboard. He had been typing pretty smoothly on the keyboard for a while, and I decided it was a good time to practice typing longer chunks at a time. But I wanted to keep it fun! We were doing a lesson on spirit bears (the white bears that live in Canada) and in it, I included the mythology of the spirit bear. This led to the following creative writing prompt:  Write a myth/story about Spirit Alex! 

The story you are about to read, written by Alex, took several weeks to finish. We started out every session with a lesson to warm-up his arm, and we ended every session with his myth. The result is a beautiful, funny, heartwarming story that teaches a very valuable lesson. Check it out below, and feel all the feels!
Thanks for reading,
-Meghann

The Myth of Spirit Alex:

There once was a time when the earth was ruled by blond haired, gentle giants. However, these giants were not very smart. They often found themselves outsmarted at every village trivia night. They were always very good about losing, very kind and congratulatory to the winners. But inside all they wanted was to win. They decided to consult with their ancestors about what to do. The ancestors told the giants they would help. They told the giants to make bread dough, and to sprinkle it with lemon zest. The giants were to then sing to the dough ball.After their delightful serenading, the giants were to place the dough on the front step and go right to bed.

The next day, the giant named dad woke to crying and went to see what was up.
Lo and behold the crying was coming from the big baby now laying where the dough ball was. Dad yelped with glee and shouted for his wife, named mom, to come right away and see what the ancestors had done. Once mom saw what all the commotion was about she knew this baby was a gift from the ancestors. So, she called him Alexander.
Pinned under Alex was a note and it said:

This baby will teach you many things. First you should know that this baby is unlike any other baby. He does not communicate  like other people and he will say things he does not mean to say. It is up to you mom and dad to make this baby feel loved unconditionally and in return he will teach you both things you never thought were possible. P.s. He is super smart and will definitely help you win village trivia night.
Mom and dad were floored but they were up to the challenge. They scooped Alex up and brought him indoors.

Over the next few years Alex proved to be quite a handful.Dishes were broken, hair was pulled, tantrums were thrown and big messes followed Alex like a shadow. But no matter how infuriated mom and dad were at times, they cherished Alex and continued to let him be his own person.

One day, when Alex was big but not fully grown, he met a wise woman and her sidekick, sensei Elizabeth and master Meghann. They were the diamonds in the rough that was Alex’s and mom and dads life. First sensei E showed the trio the Alex that was trapped inside his giant and rude body. Then master Meg continued to push Alex to be stronger. Before you know it, mom could communicate with her boy at last, and he even made a few good pals.
But no matter how big the progress was Alex still was not ready for trivia night. He was swearing like a sailor, drawing on walls and pulling hair. The people of the village could not understand Alex and therefore did not like him very much. 

The people who adored him, however, never gave up on their doughy boy. Cue eye of the tiger, because they all went rocky style on those disbelievers butts. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Mom knew she needed to take matters into her own hands.
And that is exactly what she did. Gone were the days of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Alex was being hurt more than he was being helped by the people in the village who were trying to mold him into one of them, one of the normies. Mom was reminded of the letter left by the ancestors. This baby is unlike any other baby. Of course he was not going to be or learn like other kids, Alex was not like other kids. This was a huge turning point for the whole family.

Alex was inspired now more than ever. No stopping him now. Days and nights passed as Alex and mom worked tirelessly on his social skills. So when the day finally came, Alex was ready to compete in the event. He was on a team with mom, dad, sensei E and master Meghann. They were not at all nervous looking at their competition. Then the bell rang, it was time to start. The first ten questions were too easy for Alex. The next ten were a little less easy but not too hard for Alex. The last round, however, had Alex and the team sweating. He did not know if he knew the answer to the last question. What did Egyptian medics believe was the cure for flatulence? Wait a second, Meghann talked about this. Just then Alex spelled the answer. Leeches. The bell rang, the winner was announced. It was team giant. The crowd cheered and chanted his name. Alex did it.  The end.

Mindful Inclusion at the Connections School of Atlanta

Today we welcome guest blogger, Michele Kukler, one of our ACTS (Accessing Community Through Spelling) professional practitioners and teacher extraordinare of the Connections School of Atlanta. Michele and the incredibly dedicated teachers and staff at Connections are leaders in education as they include nonspeaking students along side speaking peers inside and outside the classroom through meaningful learning and engagement. Thank you Michele and Connections for your model of inclusive practice! ~EV

Before Connections School of Atlanta came to life and we were only dreaming of possibilities, my mind was already churning with ideas for bringing other high school students into our community of learners. As a conscientious teacher, thoughts of logistics (how can we pull kids out of their own schools during the day?) and potential risks circulated through my brain, but my gut told me that it was a challenge worth pursuing. While Connections offers an incredibly progressive and individualized approach to education, our challenge as a young school lies with creating opportunities for inclusion for our deserving students. Fortunately, a junior at the nearby Paideia School, Sophie Green, was an early supporter of our start-up program and also dreaming up opportunities for inclusive experiences between us. Sophie’s drive and determination, fueled by the enthusiasm of Paideia’s Director of Service Learning, Natalie Rogovin, proved to be the perfect match for a partnership with Connections.

A few energetic meetings and encouraging email threads were all it took, and the two schools were set to begin a first-of-its-kind program in January of 2017. The game would be four square, but the goal would be friendship and understanding. A select number of Paideia students would spend two weeks learning about our students- their hopes, strengths, and their differences- and figuring out how to teach the rules and skills of a movement-based game to teenagers with sensory movement challenges. They would then travel to our school for the last block of each day and spend time leading, learning, and laughing with us. Whether or not the students mastered the game of four square didn’t matter; we could hardly wait for the fun and relationship-building to begin!

On their first visit to Connections, the neurotypicals arrived with vibrant posters, every color chalk you can imagine, a variety of different sized and weighted balls, and open hearts and minds. Both groups of students were challenged to step outside their comfort zones and enter unfamiliar territory. But the differences between them, so obvious at first, seemed to disappear within days and what emerged was a group of teenagers who were free to be themselves together. The Paideia students taught us how to return a ball in stride with a forward motion, rather than pausing to catch it, how to aim for the corners but stay within the lines, and how to advance to the highly sought after “king” position on the four square court. We taught them how to listen to people who don’t speak, how to believe when society tells you not to, and how to break down stereotypes and connect with those who simply experience the world differently.

Our students were so thankful and thrilled about hanging out with their new friends that they each wrote a letter to their designated four square partners. One Connections student’s words seem to sum up the beautiful reality of the experience: “SO MUCH FUN GETTING TO HANG OUT WITH YOU. TRYING TO MAKE MY FACE SHOW MY HAPPINESS IS REALLY HARD. I HAD SUCH AN AMAZING TIME. THANK YOU FOR HAVING FAITH IN US.” Since the success of the first short-term program left both schools wanting more, it was a no-brainer that we would replicate the experience in May, and students lined up at Paideia to sign up for round two. The spring program was another huge success and brought more “off-the-court” experiences, like a neighborhood walk to buy doughnuts and an impromptu talent show complete with tap dancing, poetry reading, and karaoke. We are counting down the days until we meet our friends again this school year!

Ask any good educator, and they will tell you that our deepest hopes for our students stretch far beyond the academic content that we teach. We want our students to grow up understanding how to think, how to relate, and how to communicate in a world that is constantly evolving and growing. Four square offered an opportunity for critical thinking, perspective taking, and most importantly, shared joy. These students were able to find their common ground through a simple game, and each one left with more empathy, imagination, and respect for differences than they had before. What once seemed like an impossible dream, became a life-changing reality, and every single student mastered the game of four square.

~Michele Kukler and the Connections School of Atlanta

Michele Kukler is the Instructional Coordinator and Lead Teacher at Connections School of Atlanta. Contact Michele at mkukler@connectionsschool.org and learn more about their innovative program at www.connectionsschool.org. Keep up with their adventures by following the students on Instagram @Connections_Class and Twitter @CSA_ATL.