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Students have a ball learning

By Mike LaBella
Staff Writer

HAVERHILL -- Children in some Haverhill schools have been tossing bean bags to each other and bouncing rubber balls in class -- all with their teachers' approval.

What appeared to be games taking place in Alice Diegisser and Sarina Ryan's class at Moody Elementary School are instead a method to help children succeed academically and socially.

Both teachers have been trying a program known as Bal-A-Vis-X -- which stands for "Balance Auditory Vision Exercises" -- and say it has had a positive effect on their students.

"I'm seeing amazing progress," Diegisser said just before school let out for summer vacation.

In Bal-A-Vis-X, children use beanbags, racquet balls, and balance boards in activities requiring full-body coordination and focused attention.

"This is a little bit hard," said Moody second-grader Felisha S. Fuentes while rocking back and forth on a balance board as each hand bounced a rubber ball. "I think my teacher wants us to read more carefully and not miss any words, and if we bounce balls it will help me to read better."

The program is being introduced in Haverhill's school system by Mary Candis Cosgrove, a part-time elementary and middle school physical education teacher who travels from school to school helping to integrate students with special needs into typical physical education classes.

Cosgrove attended a Bal-A-Vis-X training program earlier in the school year and has been using its play-like activities with special needs and typical students for the last few months.

Ryan, a reading specialist, said her students appear more self-confident since practicing the Bal-A-Vis-X exercises. "Children who would never volunteer or share are now making eye contact and are volunteering to read stories," she said.

Cosgrove said the practice of focusing on simple and increasingly more complex rhythmical movements gives a boost to students' self-esteem. The repetitive motions of the exercises can calm children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and the requirement that they work together on many of the activities boosts students' social skills, she said.

Standing face to face in pairs, children in Diegisser and Ryan's class tossed beanbags back and forth in unison to their partners, and repeated the activity over as their eyes and hands began to develop a smooth, flowing rhythm.

"Keep your hands separated," Octavia Chaney said to her partner, Joseph A. Sciacca, while tossing bags back and forth to each other. "It's hard keeping track of how many times we are doing it, and the bags are hard to catch," said Joseph.

Children switched to bouncing rubber balls, starting with one, then two, and maybe even three until mastering skills that will help them become better learners.

"When reading, children's eyes go left and right, and for math their eyes go up and down," Cosgrove said. "These exercises prepare the eyes for tracking by helping develop motor ability."

Ryan said there has been an explosion over the last few years in the understanding of the human brain and how it works, and says Bal-A-Vis-X activities enable children to use a larger percentage of their brain power.

"It's pretty up-to-date stuff," she said.

Gerald Quatrale, director of curriculum and instruction for city schools, said Bal-A-Vis-X training is free to teachers and is funded through grants and professional development money. "It is another opportunity for teachers who are looking for different avenues to reach their students," Quatrale said.

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UpComing Classes

Bal-A-Vis-X Session A Training
(17 contact hrs.)

When: October 25-27, 2019
Time: Friday 4-8pm, Saturday 8am-5pm, Sunday 8am-2pm (Class size limited 16-18 due to space)

Location: MRC 535 West. St. Rockport, Maine

Fee: $299.00 a person or $279.00 for a group registration of 2 or more

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