By Doris Christelis
Northborough – For the first time in many years, Northborough has successfully launched a variety of inclusion programs for children ages 4 to 16 through the town's Recreation Department. Courses currently available now and throughout the summer for children with special needs include: Color Your World, Painting With Music, Social Skills Development and Martial Arts Movement.
Northborough's Recreation Director Alison Lane is very happy with the response to the programs so far.
“Our goal was to provide students, including those with significant disabilities, equitable opportunities to receive effective recreational services, with the needed supplementary aids and support services, in age-appropriate classes,” Lane said. “The town offered an outdoor multi-sports class a few years ago to children with disabilities. It was well received, but the instructor moved and they were unable to replace them at the time.”
This year, the new courses offered by the Recreation Department are being taught by several instructors who have extensive training working with children with special needs.
Northborough resident Wendy Gonsenhauser will be teaching Color Your World and Painting With Music for children in grades kindergarten through fifth. Color Your World will explore color using different art media like oil pastels, paint, crayon and chalk working on all sizes and types of surfaces like canvas, paper and fabric. Painting With Music will use music to guide the artwork. The students will explore various rhythms using different musical styles from around the world as a focus for the art.
Gonsenhauser is an art teacher and expressive therapist who has been teaching for the past 20 years. She holds a bachelor's degree in art education, with a minor in art therapy and psychology, as well as a master's degree in Arts in Expressive Therapies from Lesley College. Her postgraduate work in Special Education and Early Childhood makes her uniquely qualified to reach out to children with a variety of disabilities.
Social Skills Development will be taught by Kristin Leahy, a certified elementary school teacher, who also lives in Northborough. She has experience working in grades kindergarten through fifth in special education work and teaching upper elementary math and science. She is also working on a master's degree in educational psychology and will soon be a certified school counselor.
“Children who have autism/Asperger's syndrome benefit from opportunities to develop their social skills. Extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports and special classes provide ways that these kids can practice interacting with peers, resolving conflicts, and developing friendships,” Leahy said. “The Saturday morning class will offer them the opportunity to play games, sports and have fun all while practicing these important skills.”
Jim Alty of New Horizon Karate will run the Martial Art Movement Program. Alty has over 30 years of experience teaching hundreds of students with special needs. The program he developed is designed for students with autism, Asperger's, Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He uses martial arts, games and “Brain Gym” exercises to help improve both physical and social development. The black-belt instructors have extensive experience working with children, and class size is limited to nine per class.
“Many Special Ed students find success in our karate program that quickly spreads to the rest of their life,” Alty said. “Many martial arts movements cross the planes of the body and use both the creative and logical sides of the brain together. These movements can be very helpful to children with autism, Asperger's and hyperactivity.”
The Recreation Department anticipates offering these courses throughout the summer and into the fall. For more information or to register for any of these classes visit the town's website www.northboroughrecreation.com/.