Conductive education helps with motor skills for St. Joseph Center students

A new program offered at St. Joseph Center for Special Learning that helps students with developing their motor skills is one of only a few in the country.

The school at 2075 W. Norwegian St., Pottsville, began what is called “Conductive Education” in January. Developed in Hungary by Dr. Andras Peto in 1945, CE is a multi-disciplinary approach to education, training and development for individuals with motor challenges, according to the Conductive Education Center website.

The CE program at St. Joseph Center, which is a special education school for students ages 4 to 21 sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown, is taught by Livia Burgermeiszter, whose title is “conductor.” Burgermeiszter is a native of Hungary and trained in the four-year degree program at The Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary. She came to the United States last year to conduct the program at St. Joseph Center.

On Friday, Burgermeiszter worked with teacher assistant Sierra Wilson and Deanna Bachman, who is a licensed practical nurse, as they used the CE methods with children Debianne Herring, Justin Bluge and Marcello Rivera. Since the children’s motor skills, abilities and capabilities are as individual as they are, the adults adapt their methods to each child.

Photo: JACQUELINE DORMER/AP, License: N/A, Created: 2017:02:24 09:03:20

JACQUELINE DORMER/STAFF PHOTO Siera Wilson, teaching assistant, center, reads a book during the Conductive Education program Friday at St. Joseph Center for Special Learning, Pottsville. Gathered, from left, are Livia Burgermeiszter, conductor, with student Marcello Rivera, Wilson with student Debianne Herring, and Deanna Bachman, LPN, with student Justin Bluge. The reading places an emphasis on holding the head up and eye tracking.


“The degree program specializes in this education, and they also receive training in early childhood education and all the therapies to combine it into this program,” SJC Advancement Director Amanda Campbell said. “We started it here the second week in January.”

Burgermeiszter was working with Herring on Friday, sometimes working on the floor, and at other times on a wooden plinth, which is a table, seat or apparatus on which a patient lies or sits while doing remedial exercise or undergoing examination. The apparatus used in the CE program was purchased by the school.

“She (Burgermeiszter) is prompting her, encouraging her, directing her all at the same time,” Campbell said. “She is reteaching the connection between the brain and the limbs to start working together to achieve the desired action.”

Bachman helped Rivera with spreading white glue on construction paper, followed by sprinkling glitter on the page. Herring and Bluge also received help from Burgermeiszter and Wilson, respectively, in working with the glue and glitter.

Campbell said Herring’s parents, Leslie Herring and Gerry Schappell, had been taking her to the Conductive Education Center of Orlando, which provided a connection to SJC.

“Her family had searched out these programs hoping that it would benefit her,” Campbell said. “They had gone to different programs, summer camps, mini-sessions, trying to get her this therapy in the program, and seeing the successes even in the six-week mini-sessions in the summer, they really wanted to bring it home to the county. They were considering relocating to Florida, but, in speaking with us, Debianne became a student with us last year and we realized that CE would not only benefit Debianne, but so many of our students, as well as the local community. We will accept new students to be able to come and experience this program and receive all of this combined therapy at once with the ultimate goal of independence.”

Campbell added, “So, in working with Debianne’s family, they were key in connecting a lot of the dots in finding the proper conductor. Working with them, we made it happen.”

During a snack break for the children, Burgermeiszter said what is being done with the children carries through outside of the school.

“This is a multi-disciplinary plan and it goes through the whole day,” she said. “They can use the movements throughout the day whether in the school or at home. The program’s goal is not the same goal for each child. It’s individual. It’s not the same goal for Debianne or Justin or Marcello. We are trying to motivate them with each other. The group is very important in conductive education because the kids can see each other, motivate each other. We can play in a group.”

“To me, it’s fantastic. I love to see the steps that the children have made and the accomplishments they’ve done since the beginning of January is phenomenal,” Campbell said. “A huge benefit of conductive education as part of the school day is that the students get all of their therapy and education at school so they can go home and be kids, not go home to another therapy or another program outside of school. So when Debianne is done here, she has already received her education and her therapies, so she can go home and play with the dog or her brothers — do what regular kids do and not have to go to another occupational or speech therapist.”

Burgermeiszter learned about the opportunity in Schuylkill County to bring the CE program here through the institute’s Facebook page and a posting from Debianne’s mother.

“She kept telling me that I should try this school, and after I was speaking with Mr. (Principal Roobhenn) Smith, that how I came here,” Burgermeiszter said.

Smith said he became aware of the CE program after he came to SJC in 2015 and began to learn about it.

“Our philosophy here is that if we can do or provide something that is going to help assure any one of our individual students the opportunity to become more independent, we will look into any opportunity that will help and provide with respect to that,” Smith said. “With respect to conductive education, it was gathering a lot of information to make sure that if we were going to do something in terms of the program, we weren’t going to do it or have it just to say we have it or to do it. To implement a program of this nature, we had to make sure that we had the ability and the knowledge of the program so we could articulate it.”

Smith said knowing what a program says it will do is one thing, but the real proof is to see how it works and the effect it has on the children.

“Words on a piece of paper tell you something but to have the opportunity to see some of the students who participate in the program and see their faces and see the different improvements that they made, now that’s the story,” Smith said. “And then to be a part of that story is definitely an opportunity that we as a school and our mission with respect to what the Diocese of Allentown looks to do in terms being a part of the story of those individuals. We’re fortunate in the grand scheme of things that our students allow us into their world. They’re very intuitive and they know a lot more than what anyone gives them credit for. Like I said, we’re privileged to be allowed to be in their world for the time that we have with them. So to be able to provide something that is a benefit for them is just a godsend.”

Smith added that having someone like Burgermeiszter who was educated and trained for the program where it originated is a major find.

“So to be able to have someone who is directly linked with the institute that started the program is a rare find,” Smith said. “In terms of everything we have here, we want to make sure that the staff we surround our students with are the right fit. It’s a partnership and I look at it as a marriage. Our parents entrust us with their child, and most of our students don’t have the ability to tell their parents at the end of the day how their day was, but they can tell by their body language, their smile, their excitement, how their day was. That’s a gift and a blessing to us that parents have entrusted us to do what is right and the best interest of their child.”

Smith added, “The beauty of a program of this nature is that you can see the growth. You can watch how a student who might not have been able to stand but is now able to stand and has more control of their body because they’re going through this program continuously and daily. That’s one thing that makes it unique because it is not just one day a week, but it is five days a week. The nice thing is that because you’re doing it with other peers, it offers a socialization aspect to it as well, which is important to any child’s life.”

To learn more about Conductive Education at SJC, call the office at 570-622-4638 or email

Photo: JACQUELINE DORMER, License: N/A, Created: 2017:02:24 09:10:08

JACQUELINE DORMER/STAFF PHOTO Livia Burgermeiszter, conductor, works with student Marcello Rivera as they practice crawling and basic movements with their arms and legs and holding their heads up during the Conductive Education program Friday at St. Joseph Center for Special Learning, Pottsville.