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South Schuylkill News: Kids with motor disorders achieving at St. Joseph Center

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Kids with motor disorders achieving at St. Joseph Center

By Shea SingleySouth Schuylkill News

Debianne Herring, 8, and Justin Bluge, 9, start each school day on the floor stretching their muscles and joints for a specific set of exercises to enhance their motor skills. The routine is part of Pottsville’s St. Joseph Center for Special Learning’s new conductive education program.Developed in Hungary by Dr. Andras Petro, the program is an intensive, multidisciplinary approach to education, training and development for individuals with motor disorders of a neurological origin like cerebral palsy, spina bifi da and other motor challenges. It is unique to Catholic schools in the United States, and the center’s program, which began in January, is currently the only one of its kind in the Northeast.“We’re reteaching the connection between the brain and the limbs through a step-by-step, very verbal, lots of positive reinforcement or correction (program),” said Amanda Campbell, director of advancement for St. Joseph Center for Special Learning.

At the forefront

Leading the program is Livia Burgermeiszter who was trained at The Petro Institute in Budapest as a conductor. Burgermeiszter moved to the area when she accepted the position at the center. “To implement a program of this nature, we knew we needed the right expertise and knowledge,” Principal Roobhenn Smith said in a news release. “To have someone directly linked to the founding institute is a rare find.”In the program, Burgermeiszter, along with teacher assistant Sierra Wilson and licensed practical nurse Deanna Bachman, give detailed instructions such as take your right hand, put it down, close your fingers around the rod, lift your arm and so on, to re-teach the connection between the brain and limbs. The program helps students build cognitive skills and alternative strategies to accomplish common motor tasks and provides an avenue for independence. Having the students in a group setting allows them to encourage each other through each routine. Not only do the students work on their skills during the sessions, but the same skills are incorporated into their classroom work.“Even when she’s doing her drawing or color searches or all the activities, the in-class-room teacher is still reinforcing the ‘Debianne, use your right hand to pick up the red dabber,’ ” Campbell said.

Stronger every day

Each student’s progress can be easily seen.“The beauty of a program of this nature is that you can see the growth,” Smith said. “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 of this program.” Success is measured based on each individual student. “Walking is the best way that we can demonstrate to the rest of the world that there’s progress being made,” Campbell said. “They’re working with them to really flex their muscles, flex their joints, building strength. Four weeks ago Justin could not hold up his leg like that.” For students in the program, being able to hold one’s head up for any period of time is an accomplishment, and staff can see the students excel even through photographs that show how much stronger the student looks when holding an object or how little help he or she needs from the staff during an exercise.

Creating time to relax

Though the program’s main goal is to improve students’ motor skills, there is another benefit for students and their families.“The message that we want to send out is they’re getting all of their therapy here now during the school day,” Camp-bell said. “So when they go home at night they can just be a kid. So many of our students come to school during the day but then at night they go home, get dinner, and then are off to physical therapy. (Now), when they go home at night, not only can the child relax, but so can the parents.:

St. Joseph Center looks for ways to tailor their programs and learning to best fit the needs of their students, and adding the conductive education program was no different. Herring’s familywas the one that introduced the center to the idea.

“The family became very interested and aggressive in researching programs to benefit their child once she was diagnosed with motor deficiencies,” Campbell said. “They did tons of research and found conductive education.” The Herring family made trips to Hungary and to the Conductive Education Center of Orlando, Fla., to take part in camps and session in conductive education.

“Her grandfather is extremely active with our board and said, probably a year ago, ‘We need this here. Debianne is not the only student in Schuylkill County that could benefit from this and she’s making loads of progress, but we can’t get all of that in four weeks,’ ” Campbell said.

St. Joseph Center for Special Learning, 2075 W. Norwegian St., is looking to expand its program and is accepting applications and referrals to the program. The center and program are open to more than just residents of Schuylkill County. For more information, visit

Contact Shea Singley: 570-385-7358 or

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