Update on Parelli in the Classroom at Our Children’s Academy, Lake Wales, Florida.
By Nancy Slater 2-Star Parellì Professional (pictured)
Our Children’s Academy is a public charter school in Lake Wales, Florida exclusively serving special needs children from 12 months old through high school.
Our second year of bringing Parellì in the Classroom was a huge success! I’m proud to announce that 11 of our special needs middle schoolers completed their Level 1 On Line Audition!! This being a huge feat for challenged teens with behavior issues who, In some cases, never before laid hands on an equine partner!! The following excerpt is from Linda-Lee Malone, an Occupational Therapist at Our Children’s Academy where I work as their PATH Instructor for the Hippo-therapy program as well as the new founded, “Parellì in the Classroom”. The objective of the latter program being teaching cooperation, empowerment, problem solving, empathy, self esteem, leadership and other life skills to troubled teens.
In the arena at school, this conversation took place as a male teenage student was having some trouble doing a task and becoming frustrated:
Student: “Why is this horse not cooperating? The other one did it just fine.”
Teacher: “If I gave you some Skittles would you do what I asked?”
Teacher: “If I gave (classmate) some Skittles, would he do as I asked?”
Student: “No. He hates Skittles! …Oh, I get it. Each horse has his own way of doing things, just like we do.”
As the Parelli in the Classroom project at Our Children’s Academy (OCA) continues to grow, we have experienced many “Ah-ha!” moments like this. Our program this year consisted of 12 special needs middle school students with varying diagnoses and exceptions.
It has been a little over a year since we first introduced the Parelli Natural Horsemanship class at our school, Our Children’s Academy of Lake Wales. We had a few challenges this year mostly due to scheduling conflicts as a result of limited space at our school. We do have a horse arena which needs constant watering which we had to drag hoses out for each time before class. Our school is moving to a larger property next door. Due to an increase in enrollment we have outgrown our current facility and classroom portables. It was difficult to find a place to do our classroom/book work this year. We often did this outside at a picnic table. Needless to say we do not have pretty clean neat notebooks… but we still had a wonderful year and plan to continue next year, always improving and refining our Parelli Natural Horsemanship class. Our new campus for Children’s Academy is currently in Phase I of facility construction which will include a therapy center, playground, and central horse arena. Our goal is to garner enough support to fully develop the arena to have bleachers and a myriad of activities for students and horses alike. We also hope to have the arena wheelchair friendly!
Although we are still in process of working out the best way to integrate the Parelli Natural Horsemanship curriculum into our school, we have had some great success stories.
Last year we had a student that went from being afraid of horses to requesting staff to let him work out his fear. This year he is submitting an On Line Level 1 Audition. It is amazing to watch him back a horse into the trailer or a narrow gate, send it to touch a barrel, or play the Circling Game.
We had a new student this year who loves horses and rides frequently. She initially had difficulty working in our small group of people as a result of her extreme shyness. She is definitely a Right Brain Introvert like one of our horses, Remington. Although she is great with horses, and demonstrates a very special ability to communicate with a horse, she needed what therapists call maximum verbal cues to participate. Eventually we were able to get her to work with the Seven Games. Her special ability communicating with horses has allowed her to reach success very quickly and to win her classmates admiration as well. She too is now is submitting an On Line Level 1 Audition. It is amazing to see that her self esteem has skyrocketed!
One of our students who is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s initially needed to be bribed to work with us. “What’s in it for me?” He is definitely a Left Brain Introvert. As a reward, he was taken to the local movie theater to see “Star Wars”. He is also submitting his On Line Level 1 Audition.
Another student, who is a Right Brain Extrovert and is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s (always talking about a myriad of very interesting subjects!) had to learn to focus on both his horse and the task at hand. This was sometimes a bit difficult, but he too is submitting an On Line Level 1 Audition.
We had a student with Cerebral Palsy this year who wanted to participate. Our arena is far from wheelchair friendly with its sugar sand. But with the help of the students we were able to get him “unstuck” from the sand on several occasions. This student communicates with a Dynavox communication board. Although it is an excellent device, it is large, heavy, and not very portable. We could not take it outside. With help from his classmates we made an “eye gaze board.” It is what is referred to as a low tech device. We took a large poster board and cut the middle out like a window. One of the students who had keyboarding as a goal, typed the words and phrases…including the names of the Seven Games. Other students used “fine motor skills” to cut and paste etc.
When we were done with our cooperative project our student was able to answer questions about the Games and identify the 5 Zones using the “eye gaze board.” Parelli has not only spurred creativity with staff, it has also offered so many fun and sometimes challenging activities to integrate in to our therapy program. The rewards are many!
The Parelli Natural Horsemanship Class at OCA has been a wonderful and practical way to extend learning to these very deserving students. It is important to continue to strive for “out of the box” paths to learning. Teams will continue to meet over the summer as we gear up for the next exciting chapter.
We eagerly await results of the Level 1 Auditions Assessments!!
Update: 8 of the students passed their Level 1 Auditions, congratulations!!