“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
I heard about this program last year from my friend Shane Holsinger. Immediately I was excited. His daughter Keely Matteson is a teacher at Portsmouth High School. She doesn’t box the teaching with strictly math, or English, or social studies. I believe her class teaches the most important study of all – LIFE. Her class helps students with multi-disabilities. This wasn’t a subject I was proficient in. What it means is as the name states multi disabilities. We have students with concomitant impairments. This can range from student to student and the underlying factor is it effects educational needs. What I learned is that we have a new way for students to learn. You throw in life lessons along with standard classroom acts. The combination works! Most importantly we have an outlet for students that don’t learn the “typical” way to still grow.
As I walked into the classroom, the first thing I noticed was the calmness I felt. The lighting was dimmed and soft music was playing. I wasn’t in a bad mood necessarily but immediately I felt relaxed. This is key to the students’ development. Matteson told me they start every day with mediation and yoga. From someone who has taken “Hot Yoga” I immediately knew she was onto something. I can speak personally that taking time throughout your day to breath, and decompress life’s stresses helps with focus, with energy, and with excitement for the day to come. Her classroom starts each day doing this. What better way to get everyone ready to learn! Another key for this class is routine. It’s sad to say this but many have hectic mornings. Many worry about their next meal, or where they are sleeping that evening. To give the students structure and something to look forward to does wonders. Matteson told me with the students being able to come into structure and a routine helps keep everyone focused.
She along with other teachers have been working on grant funding for their classrooms. They were just approved for a $24,000.00 grant to help build a sensory classroom. Think of the calming room I entered. This will maximize that benefit. Another thing to note is the “life skills” learning. As I toured the two rooms, I noticed a washer and dryer, and kitchen areas. The students learn to cook and serve breakfast on Fridays. They also have a coffee cart where they take orders and fulfill them. This allows for each student to get excited about the task at hand and really feel a sense of accomplishment as their fellow classmates are enjoying their food and the facility enjoying their coffee. This is no knock on my education but one of the most important thing I learned was how to live. Before I left for college my Mom taught me how to cook, how to do laundry, do dishes. You would think this are trivial things but truly we does these each day. This skills don’t change the world but they make for a better life with the more you know. I noticed a chart on the board where each student had a daily task. This also allows for an outlet where they can take pride in checking of their task for today. It also helps create a team environment and relying on each other. This are tasks that are important in our daily lives. A quick note on the students. As I looked around the room at students of various ages. I saw two things. They looked happy, and they looked truly invested in what was being taught to them. To have found a way to tap in to each person on a case by case basis and help them grow is amazing. I don’t see any agitation. This way didn’t work? Let’s try something else, but most importantly we will keep trying.
The classroom has put together a garden with the help of Lowe’s donations and it’s beautiful. The list can go on and on for the accomplishments these teachers and these students have put together. I went in excited about this program, I left blown-away. The class size sits at around 20 students. The students range in developmental hurdles and some just need a different way of learning. For someone to be a little more patient. To understand the sadness and angry that many experience and work with that to help them learn. Personally I think standardized tests aren’t the best avenue to see someone’s intelligence. Some learn by doing, some learn by reading or seeing it through a video or presentation. I applaud Portsmouth High School for being open to trying new things, and I want to give the teachers recognition for all their hard work to better the students’ lives. They aren’t teaching this way for someone to pat them on the back. I found them. This is truly done out of love and hope for our future. A sign hanging says “Be Kind, Be Brave.” Let’s take that to heart. Help those around you. We all don’t learn the same way, and we all don’t have the same home life, but that doesn’t hinder the fact that we ALL MATTER. Well Done Portsmouth High School and Keely Matteson and the other teachers that work so hard. I look forward to seeing what the future brings. #ENJOYLOCAL
Andrew McManus is Operations Manager for Patties & Pints and its parent company Eflow Development.He can be reached at [email protected] or 740-981-9158