Nine-year-old Robert was having “a really difficult day,” being belligerent and throwing himself on the floor. Intermediate Unit 1 Assistant Executive Director Donald Martin happened by and offered to show the emotional support student “something really cool.” Intrigued, Robert followed Martin up the hall and into IU1’s Fab Lab, where a teacher demonstrated 3-D printing.
“Within about 90 seconds, Robert had deescalated,” said Martin. “He was absolutely mesmerized and on task and very inquisitive.”
That serendipitous moment has since blossomed into a unique, comprehensive approach using hands-on curriculum to unlock the talents of students with significant emotional issues.
When they were first introduced to Fab Lab, a Chevron-sponsored maker space, the students simply played with equipment as a break from classroom routine. But soon, teachers were trained, and students in kindergarten through 12th grade were attending weekly classes. With very little adaptation of the invention-and-entrepreneurship curriculum, students were setting aside their outbursts to concentrate on creating night lights and laser-cut chandelier pieces.
“They’re nontraditional learners,” said Coordinator of Mental Health Services Joe Mahoney. “This is hands-on. It’s visual. These kids are extremely intelligent and extremely capable. Once they’re past barriers, we find they’re on par or better than students who don’t have these emotional issues.”
The district and Penn State-based analysis group Chartlytics are collecting data and measuring outcomes, but in the meantime, anecdotal results have been dramatic. Students are building self-confidence and returning to their regular schools with newfound leadership skills. High-school students are considering career and technical schooling. Even the IU learned a lesson about putting hands-on learning tools in its regular classrooms.
After all, notes Martin, the IU is “not only here to get students through high school but to transition them to adulthood.”
“Our goal is to demonstrate that through this curriculum and this type of teaching and learning, students have a far greater chance of survival, in terms of getting out there and getting a job and living a quality life, even with the barriers they currently have.”