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RCA students warm up with vestibular exercises before testing

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Photo by KRISTI SANDERS

Stacy Mehaffey, the contracted occupational therapist for RCA, brought up the idea for RCA students to participate in vestibular exercise prior to having them sit down and test for things like IREAD and ISTEP. It takes each student approximately one minute to run through the obstacle course that will consist of running, jumping, balancing, climbing and crawling. Pictured are third-graders completing the course.

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Students at Rural Community Academy were running through obstacle courses this week to prep them for testing.

Stacy Mehaffey, the contracted occupational therapist for RCA, has developed a course that is created to have vestibular exercise. She says this should help students with their test taking.

“There has been a rise in sensory and motor issues as I am sure, if you have been in education for several years, you have noticed,” Mehaffey said.

Some of the issues being seen, according to Mehaffey, are:

• Decreased attention

• Fidgeting

• Decreased strength

• Poor posture

• Decreased stamina

• Falling

• Increased aggression

• Trouble reading

• Increased emotional reactions

• Rise in anxiety

Studies are now showing that one of the things to blame for these deficits is a lack of development of the child’s vestibular system.

“The vestibular system is important for a number of reasons,” Mehaffey said. “One is that it helps children be able to get from point A to point B safely without falling. It helps the child to know where their body is in space without running into things or others, prevents falling out of seats, etc.”

Another important factor is it helps students pay attention.

“It also activates or alerts the reticular activating system in your brain to pay attention and this is why kids fidget,” Mehaffey said. “When they are moving back and forth in their chair, they are stimulating the vestibular system to turn their brain on so they can pay attention.”

Most babies have a fully mature vestibular system when they are born, Mehaffey said.

“When they are restricted over and over, this is when we start to see problems,” Mehaffey said.

She explained that if you think about the unborn baby’s environment, they are constantly bouncing and spinning around and moving back in forth, but as soon as they are born we put them in containers, car seats, infant seats or strollers and restrict their movements to keep them safe. The results are that by the time these children reach school age many have vestibular systems that are impaired.

“In the school setting they are asked to again sit and then they have the added pressure of listening, paying attention and learning,” Mehaffey said. “Is it any wonder they are struggling? It takes approximately 20 minutes of inactivity for the brain’s neurons to stop firing and a child needs to move their bodies to get them firing again so they can pay attention and learn.”

In addition to being required to sit in class, often teachers resort to taking away recess time and/or PE time for poor behavior, which is only exacerbating the problem.

“In order for our students to be able to sit, focus and learn they need vestibular exercise,” Mehaffey said. “They need the movements they get while completing physical play.”

So Mehaffey brought up the idea for RCA students to participate in vestibular exercise prior to having them sit down and test for things like IREAD and ISTEP. It takes each student approximately one minute to run through an obstacle course that will consist of running, jumping, balancing, climbing and crawling.

“My hope is that this will kind of prime their pumps and get their brains ready to sit and concentrate on what you as teachers have already taught them so that their test scores will better reflect their abilities,” Mehaffey said. “The current plan is to pilot this with IREAD testing and if all goes well to continue it through ILEARN and IAM.”

So far, the third-grade students who have tried this for IREAD testing like the new approach.

“The students seemed to enjoy it and in talking to them about it today they unanimously reported that it definitely made them feel more awake,” Mehaffey said.

In other business:

• Derek Grant, the COO for RCA, is working on marketing open enrollment for the next school year. They are using TV ads, ads in the newspaper, radio and Facebook trying to promote the school.

Open enrollment ends April 5.

For the radio ad, student Kayla Samm won a contest and was able to go and help record the ad from her design.

• Students are working to complete testing for the high ability program that will start next school year for RCA. CAO Jennifer Wall said parents will be getting letters in the mail soon about how their children tested.

• Grant brought up going through a company called Food2School for RCA to be better able to get more bids for food in the school.

“This program will do the bidding for the school,” Grant said. “… it will help the school be compliant with state standards.”

The Rural Community Schools Inc. approved starting with the new program.

• There are a few important dates to keep in mind for the school.

The general membership meeting will be May 14, the spring show is set for May 21 at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and graduation is set for May 20. No time has currently been set for graduation.


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