Tag Archives: Friendship Academy

Virtual Friendship Academy

by Patricia Formicola

The best part of social distancing is every day at 9:30am I get to see my students and teaching assistant, Ms. Sonia for our Morning Meeting Circle Time! It brings an instant smile to my face as each child arrives to our Go-To-Meeting room. We count and take attendance each day and have up to 12 students at a time. We do our Good Morning song and our Positive Behavior Support song. This song is lead by my Teacher Assistant, Ms. Sonia. We then have a structured routine each day so the students know what to expect. It is the same schedule we used in our classroom at Easterseals  Friendship Academy in Levittown, PA.

We talk about the weather of the day. I call on a student who uses her talker (speaking device) to tell us if it is sunny, rainy, cloudy, or snowing. We move to our calendar, days of the week, special days of the month etc…Each student is called on to answer different questions like , what is the month, day, year and someone chooses the background for the calendar whether its a spring background, Earth day background, or rainy one for April showers. Then we watch a shapes and a number song video from YouTube using the split screen as a visual.

Afterwards we talk about the letter of the week, the sound it makes, and what words begin with this letter. Students then use items in their house to do a Show and Tell. This week was the letter “W” and students took turns showing me their water bottles, watches, Woody dolls, a whale stuffed toy and one student who is 3 years old even showed us a picture of Washington’s Crossing. W for Washington. His mom prompted him asking him what river and he knew it was the Delaware River that Washington crossed! He was excited to answer this question and we felt his excitement!

After the letter of the week, we do a read aloud book picking different authors. This week we are reading all Eric Carl books. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Lonely Firefly, Head to Toe, 10 Rubber Ducks, and The Mixed-up Chameleon. We make connections to each book as Eric Carl is the author and illustrator so you see similar pictures of the sun, moon, different animals etc.. His books also teach letters, numbers, shapes, days of the week, animals etc…

For the last part of our morning meeting we end with 100 exercises. I show a Jack Hartmann, Let’s Get Fit ….Count to 100 video. Every set of 10 we do different exercises including, arm circles, touch your toes, jogging, and clap your hands over your head.

Then we say our Good-byes to everyone! Students call out the names of their friends saying Good-bye to each person and see you tomorrow!

100 Years, a reflection with a former client

by Liz Graham

It’s 2019 and Easterseals is celebrating 100 years of service and advocacy for people living with disabilities!

It is an incredible milestone and I have been lucky to learn more about our history and meet some of our supporters and clients over the past few months. Through this celebration I have had the pleasure of getting to know Susan K., an Easterseals Legacy Society Member and former client who received Physical Therapy services in the 1960’s. In speaking with Susan to learn about her life and her experiences it struck me how far we have come as a society and, yet, how far we still have to go. This is why the next 100 years of Easterseals are so important.

Susan was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy early in life. Her physical challenges have never defined her; fortunately, with the advocacy of loved ones early in life she never believed she couldn’t achieve whatever she set her mind to. In Susan’s words:

“My story as an “Easterseals child” began sixty some years ago in, what was then, the small, sleepy – some might say idyllic – town of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised.

Doylestown, in the 1950’s and 60’s, was a town small enough that most families knew each other somehow or other…from school, church, civic activities or shopping at the A&P grocery store in the middle of town. I attended the public “borough schools” from kindergarten through graduation from high school. However, there was a time that my going to public school was in doubt. There were a few who felt a physically handicapped child should not be integrated in school with other more “normal” children. But, thanks to the perseverance of my parents and a few enlightened individuals, it was felt there was no reason I could not be mainstreamed into the school system. And, only minor physical accommodations were ever made. Accommodations that would be almost laughable today, they were so simple. My first four years of school were spent in a very old, gothic structure with four floors and restrooms in the basement. As an example, in first and second grades, when we had one of our numerous fire drills, a male teacher, on his way down the stairs from the upper floors to the outside, would sweep me up in his arms and carry me down the long outside flight of stairs to the playground where everyone gathered. However, on a daily basis, I navigated all those steps totally on my own.

Friendships made, early on, were friendships that live on even today. I was different but accepted. Sure, occasionally different is picked on, picked last; but because I met my school mates at a time when children have few preconceived notions, for the most part, I had a fairly normal school experience. I’ve always felt my public-school experience, and the general acceptance I always felt – from classmates to teachers – is what helped to form my feelings of self-worth.

Of course, during those early growing up years, I was a regular client of Easterseals “treatment centers”. I had physical therapy, fortunately not needing occupational or speech therapies. Occasionally, at the treatment center, I would meet with the great Dr. Burton Chance, an early pioneer in the field of treating handicapped children. My years of physical therapy, years of wearing leg braces, were free, courtesy of the “Easterseal Society”. Generous donations then, as now, really do change the course of life for Easterseals children whose families might not, otherwise, be able to afford the cost.

After high school graduation, I went on to college. Then, two months after college graduation, I began my first full time job that would end up being a 36-year career in state government. Seven years ago, I retired from that career.”

Since 1960 the world has evolved and great strides have been made to provide individuals with disabilities greater equality and access, particularly in our schools. Easterseals was at the forefront of advocacy to pass the American Disabilities Act and has always sought to provide innovative services to help people with disabilities find greater independence. Today, there would be no doubt that Susan would attend public school with her peers. Today, Easterseals breaks down barriers to inclusion and stereotypes before they are ever built; our Friendship Academy preschool program integrates children with and without disabilities to learn and grow together. This innovative approach to preschool began in 2006 and, locally, has had significant impact for participants.

But we are far from done.

When I asked Susan if she has seen a significant difference in society’s perception of individuals with disabilities she responded,

The treatment of those who are “different” – physically, mentally, racially, ethnically, gender based, etc. – hasn’t really changed all that much. There have always been – are now – some who are compassionate and enlightened. People who don’t flinch at having normal interaction with those who are perceived as being different. Who help others when they see a need.

But, we also live in a world where threats of all kinds could be just around the corner. A world where many seem to be looking out just for themselves. To them, dealing with someone who is slower, or in need of assistance, is an inconvenience they’d rather avoid on their way to protecting themselves. I’ve often wondered how people like that would handle themselves, or a loved one, becoming suddenly disabled. Would they be angry when they see a handicapped parking space being taken by someone who, literally, sprints from car to building? Would they expect assistance as their “right”?

I’ve been one of the lucky Easterseals children in that my disability, for most of my life, did not hamper or define what I wanted to do. Much of the credit goes to family, friends and teachers I had at each step along the way. But, of course, had it not been for Easterseals and the services they provide, the story might have been totally different.”

It is critical that Easterseals continue to advocate, continue to innovate, and continue to ensure that individuals like Susan have the resources and services they need to live, learn, work and play in their communities. Join Easterseals for our next 100 years where, together, we will work to build a future where everyone is 100% included and 100% empowered.

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Newspaper clipping of Susan as a child.

Learning about fire safety

by Angela Shelly

On October 23, 2017, Easterseals Gresh Center in Montgomery County got a very special visitor! October is Fire Safety month, so Lieutenant Eric Greiner brought his fire truck to school! Eric is the parent of two of our Friendship Academy students, Olivia and King. They were very excited to see their dad with his fire truck! All of our friends were so happy to learn about fire safety from a real fireman.

Lieutenant Eric introduced himself and showed our friends around the fire truck. They spotted the ladder, axe, hose, controls, and many other parts of the fire truck! Our friends discussed “stop, drop, and roll” with Lieutenant Eric and we learned that smoke rises, so in a fire, we should crawl on the floor, or get as low as we can. He read “Going to the Firehouse” by Mercer Mayer to all of our friends and explained all about how his firehouse is like the one in the Critter’s book. Lieutenant Eric’s fireman friend came out of the fire truck to help demonstrate how firemen wear their safety gear. Our friends learned all about the different parts of their safety gear and why they are important. Everyone got to high-five the geared-up fireman so that they knew he wasn’t someone to be afraid of, but someone to look for in an emergency!

When it was time for the firemen to leave, they got a call to go help put out a real fire! Lieutenant Eric turned on the siren as he left in the fire truck. It was very loud and exciting! All of our friends at Easterseals are very excited, because the fire company gave each child a very special plastic fire hat! We are so grateful to Lieutenant Eric Greiner and his fire company for visiting us and teaching us all about fire safety.

Memories from a Friendship Academy Graduate

by Grace O’Brien

Grace attended the Friendship Academy from the age of 2 1/2 until kindergarten. Today, Grace is an honor student in the sixth grade. Over the winter break, she came to Easter Seals to volunteer. She also wrote her very first blog post about her experience in the Friendship Academy.

Friendship Academy is where I went to preschool. I loved it there. While I was there, I made many new friends. I also learned how to spell many words such as red and yellow.

I loved all of my teachers. Some days in after care, I did yoga! One day in after care I painted my nails. During the summer camp, I learned about camping. I also learned about the clean-up song, which I used to use with my friends when I was little. I occasionally start singing it without even knowing it.

While I was there, I learned a lot about diversity. I learned how to treat others. If I hadn’t gone to the Friendship Academy, I would be a completely different person.

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Grace performing in her holiday show at the Friendship Academy

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Grace taking pictures of the holiday show this year

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Grace helping the music therapist Grace with the program

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Grace with one of her classmates, Cara, from Friendship Academy

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Angels Without Wings

by Michael Murphy

Being a teacher you expect to have an impact. You expect the children you teach to at some point carry a couple of your lessons into the rest of their lives. This can be a difficult idea when you consider a preschool or primary grade student’s perspective. As a preschool teacher I battle for attention in a steel cage versus SpongeBob Squarepants, Mickey Mouse and a plethora of Disney Princesses for the World Heavyweight Champion of THE BRAIIIN… and sometimes I come out on top. Every once in a while I walk away with a victory. I get that it is never a routine victory, and that’s the joy of teaching. It is not often, however that a teacher expects to reach the parents in the same way.

At Easter Seals Bucks County Division, our Friendship Academy parents often pick up their students right from the classroom (as opposed to waiting in a car line or waiting for dismissal at the door). This offers us a unique opportunity to wrap up the day, share some praise and concerns about their child and creates the welcoming family community that we have established so well.

During an encounter with a parent after their child’s particularly rough day, one of several in recent history, I shared my concern:

“They did great with X, Y and Z but could use some extra help with A. Can I share some strategies with you?”

The look of joy, relief and grace poured from the parent. “I thank you. You do it, I don’t know how you do it, but you do it. They are a different kid since they started here. They clean up at home Because “Mom Mr. Mike said so.”

I’ve gotten compliments before, people notice what teachers do sometimes, but then mom stopped and reached out and said “this place is amazing. I love it. Everyone says hello, they smile, they ask how I am, they all know (child’s) name. You don’t know, Mr Mike. I come in here and I am so happy. You are angels without wings here. You may not see your wings, but I see them. All of you have them.”

I’ve gotten compliments before. I’ve gotten hugs and high fives, I’ve seen parents tear up with gratitude. In this sense I know I am lucky. Not every teacher gets to hear or see the kinds of things, achievements progress milestones that we get to see at Easter Seals. Not every teacher gets to be part of such a team as Easter seals. The parent went on to talk about the staff and administrators at the front desk who greet them both by name each day. She also discussed teachers, therapists and teaching assistants from the building that share smiles and praise her child’s walking feet or listening ears. She crosses fellow parents who share a wave or some words as they hustle to another stop or errand.

I’ve never heard any of these people set goals to make people smile, but it is just something we do here at Easter Seals. Something ingrained in our approach and our routine; to be thankful for each child and family we get to reach and those that are supportive and positive about what we do. It’s not always easy and no day is like another. We smile and take those parents who need us under our wings, that now I know we have, and let them know that they have a team behind them.

Six Super Rules

by Michael Murphy

At Friendship Academy in Bucks County, following the rules is not as hard as you’d think. While the children all learn differently, we have really had the benefit on controlling behaviors following six simple rules. The rules are not a list of ‘Don’t’ and ‘No’, which can intimidate and often do not help students behave any better, nor are they loosely described by any means. Our six rules are very closely tied to our classroom expectations as labeled through our PBIS initiative (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). Our six rules are:

Hands Help

Hearts Care

Ears Listen

Feet Wait

Eyes Watch

Be a Friend

The nice thing about these rules, best utilized during times of instruction (circle, story, activity\craft instruction, etc.), is that they describe aspects of the individual child that can be controlled with self-regulation and practice. Instead of telling students what not to do, and providing examples of how they can (poorly) behave to receive some additional attention, the rules simply act as reminders of what their bodies are capable of and how they can best use their bodies to their advantage.

What has made our rules all the better is tying them, in part, to a superhero theme. Thinking of the different aspects that make superheroes special, yet still require them to work in teams to solve problems, helps to create some additional hints towards working together with our peers, finding individual strengths and using new ideas for the greater good. Many preschool and early learning programs use a similar “Be A Superfriend” strategy that helps to recognize the everyday superstars that our children can be, through simple, kind and intentional acts in daily interaction.

Recently Edwin Gonzalez, Friendship Academy’s artistic Teaching Assistant, has created an exciting set of pictures and classroom reminders that help students focus on their expectations. The pictures show diversity, from Wonder Woman’s watching eyes to The Incredible Hulk’s waiting feet to Iron Man’s mechanical caring heart. They are bright and colorful, much like the students we teach. The pictures speak to all types of children, whether they like the hero or just the picture itself. The pictures grab their attention just enough for the teacher to direct it to the lesson. The pictures are unique and even the process of putting them together drew attention from the students as they watched Edwin plan, draw, color, laminate and post. You could tell that they already felt a little super about each addition to the series.

In addition to our Superfriends, there is much to be said about the everyday unsung heroes, the Teacher’s Assistants, the Bus Aides, the therapists, nursing staff, individual support staff, those that cook, clean, file or place calls. We are all part of a team of heroes. When we focus on what we are able to control, our body and our attitude, we can think more positively about the effects our actions have on our team, and more so, how we can contribute to make a team stronger. A team is only as strong as the weakest link, and if your weakest link is the Incredible Hulk, you are in pretty good shape.