Strength, smiles grow in adapted gymnastics classes


MARTINSBURG, West Virginia – If smiles are the sign of success, then the gymnastics wing at Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center is full of them.

Colton Ball smiled ear to ear as he hung from a bar under the watchful eye of his mother. Eliana Graulau beamed and giggled as she squirmed in a pit full of black, blue and orange blocks of foam.

The two are among five students who recently participated in the weekly Special Needs Gymnastics class offered by Flip Over Gymnastics, whose facilities are located behind the Martinsburg Recreation Center. The Feb. 18 class was only the third of its kind offered on the site, which hosted open gym sessions on Fridays for children with special needs and their families for a few years.

“It’s funny. I love seeing him hang out with other kids and be social,” said Megan Ball, mother of Colton, 6, as she moved quickly with him in the gym.

“I thought it would be really good for him because it’s structured” and helps him focus, said Megan, 32, of Falling Waters, W.Va.

She said Colton’s autism teacher at Spring Mills Elementary School (W.Va.) told her about the class.

“It gives off all that nervous energy,” Megan said of her kindergarten child.

Israel Graulau, 49, of Martinsburg, said Eliana, 6, a home student, had taken a gymnastics class elsewhere but there weren’t enough assistants so there were too many of downtime for students.

He said he preferred the smaller size of the Flip Over class and having each student busy at a station working on a skill with the help of the instructor, Cat Sloan, or an adult who l ‘accompanied.

Israel has said that Eliana sometimes has memory problems, but he is satisfied with “the fact that she remembers a little more” from week to week.

To acquire skills

Sloan, also coordinator of Flip Over Gymnastics, said the special needs class started Feb.4 and will be offered from 4:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. every Thursday.

Although there was a specific open gym time for children with special needs, when it came to classes, they were grouped together with other gymnastics students.

Sloan said staff members were getting requests from parents about creating a separate class, so she decided to give it a try.

She said only about five students will be taken at a time, but if interest grows more classes may be added.

Currently, participants are 6-10 years old and have a variety of issues including autism, sensory sensitivities, difficulty concentrating on specific tasks or recovering from injuries.

“It’s a very broad spectrum right now,” Sloan, 35, said.

Some of the Feb. 18 class were new to gymnastics, while others attended the open gym sessions or participated in other classes. Sloan stressed that an adult should stay to help each student with special needs during the class and the open gymnasium.

After the kids rushed into the room and took off their shoes, they watched two student assistants, who are part of Flip Over’s other gymnastics programs, demonstrate the day’s exercises.

They showed students how to jump with their hands in the air on an inflatable track, ride on what Sloan called a “cheese mat” because it is shaped like a piece of cheese, and hang from a rope. to warm up their muscles.

“Sometimes kids learn more from kids,” Sloan said.

“I like helping children. I like to show them new skills, ”said gymnast Nate McCormick, 12, of Martinsburg, who was assisted by Brennan Landerkin, 10, also of Martinsburg. Nate said watching a child learn a new skill made him “pretty excited, happy.”

From there, Sloan explained each of the stations for the day, which included jumping on a trampoline, first in the center, and then, if they were feeling adventurous, trying “sit, dog, belly”. It involved jumping, landing on your butt with your legs outstretched, then bouncing and landing on all fours like a dog, then flattening on your stomach.

They also hung from a bar, with the ultimate goal of making a pull; jumped into a pit full of moss squares and got out using a carpet draped over the side; were kicking donkeys with their hands on a purple pencil-shaped carpet; kneel or stand with outstretched arms on an unbalanced mat; and walked on a balance beam.

In each class, the adults accompanying the children learn to support each station, where they stay for a while before moving on to the next. Sloan is the “lookout” at one of the stops. All stations are marked with numbered yellow cones.

“Learning skills is very important,” Sloan said, so she intends to teach adults how they can best help children. This could include telling them to stand in front of the youth as they walk on a balance beam to focus on advancing.

Screams of “I did it!” Could be heard throughout the gym as the kids tried out each exercise. When someone said “help me,” a parent or Sloan offered words of encouragement or a little nudge to help a student complete the task at hand.

Sloan did hands-on training with students with special needs while preparing for his bachelor’s degree in physical and health education at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, Va., And participated in discussions and wrote articles for them. subject as part of his graduate studies at American Public University. . She also learned a lot on the job.

“A lot of it would come from integration,” Sloan said of his knowledge of how to work with students with special needs while integrating them into other classes.

“This is something that I think I have a good understanding of,” she said, adding that there was a lot more to learn, as every student is different.

Tired, but gaining strength

As she helped her daughter, Emma, ​​navigate her way through the train stations, Maureen Null from Martinsburg recounted how much the girl has come.

Emma Null took a gymnastics class for about three months in 2012, then was involved in a serious car accident on Christmas Eve with her mother, brother and sister. Only the sister is unharmed.

Emma, ​​now 7, suffered a head injury.

“She had to relearn how to walk, to talk,” Maureen said of Emma, ​​a second grader at Tuscarora Elementary School.

On February 18, she walked down the tumble trail on her own, but just two weeks ago, she needed her mother’s help.

“It puts her core to work, which is her weakness,” said Maureen, 40.

Emma has worked hard to regain her physical strength, through therapy in and out of school, and through Horses with Hearts, a program that offers horse-assisted activities for people with special needs. whether they are physical, mental or emotional. She said gymnastics class gave her daughter a good workout.

“It wears her out,” Maureen said. “It exhausts her, but in a good way,” she said, adding that Emma fell asleep on the short drive home from school.

Kara Richardson of Falling Waters accompanied her daughter, Cailin, 5, into the classroom.

Cailin, who is autistic, was in a class with all kinds of kids and comes to the open gym sessions, but Kara really likes the smaller number of students in the special needs class.

“I felt like she would learn more with more individual attention,” said Kara, 35. “A smaller class is better for her.”

She laughed admitted that she had mixed feelings about being so practical in the classroom.

“I love her in some ways,” although sometimes she prefers to sit and watch, Kara said.

“She learned to do different jumps on the trampoline, to work on her balance, to work on the strength of her arms,” said Kara. “She pays a little more attention to what the boys (student assistants) do when they show them what they’re supposed to be working on.”

At first, she said Cailin used to run away and not follow directions, but she does it less often.

“It’s a good exercise for her and the teacher is awesome,” Kara said.

Colton Ball, 6, of Falling Waters, W.Va., receives a helping hand from his mother, Megan Ball, as he hangs from a bar during a class for children with special needs at Flip Over Gymnastics at the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center.
Trent Spurgeon, 6, of Martinsburg, W.Va., takes airtime while bouncing during a class for children with special needs at Flip Over Gymnastics at the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center in Martinsburg.  Watch over her mother, Nikie Spurgeon, and 4-month-old brother, Jack.

WHAT: Adapted gymnastics classes

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. on Thursdays

OR: Flip Over Gymnastics, behind Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center, 273 Woodbury Ave., Martinsburg, W.Va.

COST: $ 40 per month

CONTACT: Dial 304-264-4842, extension 22

FOLLOWING: Instructors will be present, but adult participation is required

WHAT: Free time for children with special needs and their families

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays

OR: Flip Over Gymnastics, behind Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center, 273 Woodbury Ave., Martinsburg, W.Va.

COST: $ 6 an hour; $ 4 for siblings, who do not need to have special needs to participate

CONTACT: Dial 304-264-4842, extension 22

FOLLOWING: Instructors will be present, but adult participation is required


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