By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Blanchard Valley Center is celebrating Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month under the theme “CommUNITY,” and leaders at Blanchard Valley School are focused on highlighting their students’ successes and involvement with the general population.
The school’s partnership with local families often begins at birth, at the suggestion of the child’s doctor. Specialists in the areas of occupational or physical therapy, speech/language pathology or development work with the family to determine their goals and priorities for the child’s development and, if deemed appropriate, introduce the home-based early intervention program.
Blanchard Valley School Principal Tanya Pike says early intervention serves over 200 families a year and acts as a “coaching model” for the child’s caregivers. Specialists meet with the child and parents inside the home to offer advice and coaching, with the frequency of the visits based on individual need.
This year, the school has 48 students enrolled in its preschool class (ages 3 through kindergarten) and 18 in its school-age classes (kindergarten through age 22). The school serves students from all districts in Hancock County.
Here’s a look at a few of the school’s students:
Vinnie and his twin sister Frankie (short for Vincent and Francesca) were born two and a half years ago to Jennifer and Robert Bartenschlager. At about 14 months old, it was determined that Vinnie’s development was not on target for his age, and that his delays were speech related.
Vinnie was enrolled in early intervention, with a specialist visiting his home every other week to provide parent coaching. “They work with me to work with him,” Jennifer says. “And then we work with him to increase his communication with me and his dad and his sister.”
Jennifer has noticed “waves of improvement” in Vinnie’s speech and says she has also noticed her formerly timid boy begin to come out of his shell. And, although she didn’t qualify for the program, sister Frankie has improved her communication as well.
“She’s really lucked out in that regard, in that she’s getting the benefit of the program as well,” Jennifer says.
The twins will turn 3 in August. At that time, Mom and Dad and school officials will decide whether Vinnie will transition to Blanchard Valley School’s preschool or “graduate” from its services altogether.
In the meantime, Jennifer welcomes any additional improvements her son will make.
“I definitely would encourage anyone for early intervention. It’s definitely worth looking into and positive for children,” Jennifer says.
“I’m a fan. I support them.”
Logan Phillips just turned 4 but is the size of a 1-year-old.
The daughter of Brittany and Kelby Phillips, Logan was diagnosed with Down syndrome before she was born. A stroke at birth left her with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and she also has a heart condition whose short name, CAVSD/TOF, required two heart surgeries by the time she was 11 weeks old.
Logan and her family were involved with early intervention, which Brittany says provided a seamless transition to preschool toward the end of the past school year. Logan began her first full year of preschool this fall, and Brittany says the play-based learning, combined with physical, occupational and speech therapy, has sparked an “explosion” in her child’s development.
Now, Logan is walking independently and uses a custom-built wheelchair to ride the bus to school — a novelty that never seems to lose its luster.
“Most days she’s like, hands in the air, ‘Hey! I get to go to school!'” Brittany says.
As a mom, Brittany was also pleased with the transition to preschool because Logan’s former in-home aides are present at the school, “so there were familiar faces there to make her feel comfortable.”
Logan’s preschool class is a mix of typical and special needs students, and when she reaches age 6 her parents will decide whether she’ll attend public school or remain at Blanchard Valley School.
Brittany says while many adults tend to treat her daughter “like glass” or something to be handled delicately, Logan’s teachers “just treat her like any other kid out there. And I love that.”
Noor Koomen was one of three special needs girls adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage two years ago by Amy and Jason Bowman-Kooman.
While she remains nonverbal with the mental capacity of a 2-year-old, Amy has noted significant improvements in 8-year-old Noor’s development since enrolling in the school-age program. The once stroller-bound child is now a proud member of the Gliding Stars adaptive ice skating team and is overjoyed every time her mom drives by the school or even in its general vicinity.
“She goes to school and she loves it. She knows school. She knows the bus. She likes the routine,” Amy says. “She’s come so far.”
Noor has severe epilepsy, along with cerebral palsy and Apert syndrome, a genetic disorder in which the premature fusion of certain skull bones prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face.
Amy says she and Jason were given the option of sending Noor to Findlay City Schools, but chose to keep the child at Blanchard Valley School because its learning is play-based. Blocks and toys are utilized in the classroom, with physical, occupational and speech therapy mixed in. Emphasis is also placed on basic life skills and tasks like waiting in line or putting on a coat.
“Problem-solving for her is different from problem-solving for a typical student,” Amy says.
Amy and Jason also have three biological children, ranging from 8 to 12 years old. Since welcoming their adoptive sisters the children have begun to volunteer at Blanchard Valley Center events and have eagerly embraced those with different abilities. “It’s been amazing for them. It’s been a huge impact on our family,” Amy says.
Parents interested in learning more about the school’s programs and services may contact Pike at 419-422-8173 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.