By Jean Schurman
Learning to read, do math, sit still and listen to the teacher are probably a kindergartener’s or first grader’s biggest tasks. It’s a tough job. Imagine then, that physically the child just cannot sit still or sit up straight long enough for her or his eyes to focus on the alphabet letters or numbers. It’s just plain frustrating and the child slips farther and farther behind. Victor School has developed a program to deal with these types of situations and the program is working.
Dr. Norma Gilmore has devoted over 50 years in education to helping students that have problems reading. Along the way she noticed that most of the students who were struggling with reading skills also had trouble sitting correctly at their desk, tracking moving objects with their eyes and even some balance issues.
Dr. Gilmore studied with Dr. John Upledger of the Upledger Institute International. Upledger was an Osteopathic Physician who trained adult students in the cranio-sacral method of therapy. The craniosacral system is the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround the brain and protect the spinal cord. This technique requires a very soft touch that when applied, releases restrictions in the system to improve the function of the central nervous system. She also was involved with a Developmental Optometrist where she learned visual-motor exercises to use with children to improve their eye tracking abilities.
Dr. Gilmore combined this training with her educational background and developed a program to be used at school with the children in her classroom. The program consisted of visual-motor exercises and cranio-sacral therapy bodywork that facilitated better muscular, eye-tracking, skeletal balance, ability to listen and sit at a desk and work. These exercises improved the child’s ability to learn what the teacher teaches them. Later, while supervising student teachers for the University of Montana in the Bitterroot, she realized there were many students that could benefit from the program.
About eight years ago she approached Orville Getz who was the superintendent at Victor at the time and told him of her concerns and solutions. The duo applied for a grant from the Greater Ravalli Foundation to purchase visual-motor equipment. They then recruited volunteers to help with the program and went to work in the lower elementary grades. Two of the volunteers are Barbara Stephani (a retired teacher from Victor) and Ellen Wade. They have been with the program since the beginning seven years ago, as well as Vicky Allsop who was there for six years. Their experience with the program is an added bonus. Through the years there have been several more volunteers in the program.
The volunteers and teachers observe the classes watching for students who cannot sit when necessary. The volunteer therapists and teachers also watch to see if the child’s eyes track alphabet letters, words, or lines of print correctly. Sometimes one or both eyes will skip a letter or a word, slip a line and then go back. If any of these interruptions in tracking occurs, it limits the child’s ability to learn to read or do math. Teachers and parents can recommend children to participate, but they must have permission from their parents.
Among the exercises the group uses to evaluate and help are head rolls, cross crawls, walking a balance beam, jumping rope and essentially all body movement. They also do ball tracking using a small whiffle ball that swings from a long string, following a finger, coloring in large newspaper letters while timed, etc. The exercises advance as the child advances. In addition, the therapist does an evaluation to see if there are any obvious structural abnormalities that may impede the child and develops an action plan as well. Dr. Gilmore is the author of a book entitled “Get Ready, Set, Go and Read” which is a manual for the program.
For seven years, Dr. Gilmore was the head of the program and developed an action plan for each student so the volunteers knew what techniques to work on with the individual students. This past fall, Dr. Gilmore handed the program over to Tanya Drayton, the owner of White Bird CranioSacral Therapy in Victor.
Drayton is excited to take on the program and hopes to continue to have success in Victor Schools. The teachers feel this is a great help and the students love to participate in this program.
The program runs from September until Thanksgiving. The volunteers return in late January to work with specific children for more training. For more information, contact your child’s teacher or call Tanya at 642-3665 or Norma Gilmore at 375-8310.