The Rhythm of Growth

Crotched Mountain School’s unique after school program offers enrichment and education, excitement and expression–as it has for years.

By Sonja Martineau

THE PAST

She made a special trip to Healing Arts Coordinator Deb DiCicco’s office that day to share a poignant and unexpected result—one that occurred because she’d given space—and as she recounted the moment, she wept.

An adaptive dance instructor, the woman is more used to being in motion than not and as the class gathered in a circle, she’d begun to teach them about “mirroring.”  She made a movement and then paused. The class was tasked with making the same movement. After a while, students took turns entering the center of the circle and starting their own movement for the group to mirror. But on this day, the dance instructor pulled up a chair and sat opposite a member of the class who uses a wheelchair. She made a movement, and though it took several beats in between, the student mirrored.

Again, she moved, again the beats and then he mirrored.

After several rounds, she stopped. She chose to allow some space to occupy the moment. The two remained sitting together, looking at one another. And then… the student held up his hands and made his own unique movement. She mirrored. He made a new move. She mirrored.

And then…a rare smile appeared on his face—something that for this young man, is not automatic.  

THE PRESENT

This reaction is a familiar one today for students.  And they aren’t the only ones to experience wonder. It is a daily occurrence for the visiting art instructors of Crotched Mountain School’s RIDGE After School Program (which stands for Recreation, Independence, Discovery, Growth, and Enrichment).

They are exploring and creating together.

RIDGE was developed to both enhance the quality of life for the students and to prepare them for a life of maximum independence. It is overseen by Crotched Mountain School’s team of Recreation Therapists. In addition to dance, RIDGE offers activities like cooking, Farm School, basketball, hiking, weaving, yoga, music and more.

From the yoga instructor:

I find myself each Tuesday at Crotched Mountain, being brought back to the real purpose of yoga, that of being connected to your body. These students thrive when it comes to finding the joy in each pose while not rushing to find out what happens next.

From a non-verbal student excited to “OM”, to a very energetic kid finding the stillness and stability inside, that allows him to hold a single balance pose for a longer time each week, these students surprise me and themselves with what they can accomplish when they stay present in the moment and continue having the motivation to show up every Tuesday and do their best.

When the students grow and achieve a new pose and see what their body is capable of, it fuels the fire motivating them to show up more and more each week.

Music class consists of a 40-minute session that opens and ends with a song.  Each class provides an opportunity for students to experience both individual and group activities while providing freedom of choice, as the students make their own decisions about which musical instrument to play—options range from hand drums to shakers and tambourines.

The freedom of self-expression is encouraged while students learn how to use their percussion instrument.  Staff members observe that in class some students sing or speak in a way they’ve never done before.

Music class gives a voice to students with communication challenges as they learn to employ a new skill in a new way. An additional benefit to music class is that the students are able to see their Crotched Mountain staff in a new way. They are exploring and creating together—an opportunity for a different type of bond where the mutual goal is to make music and have fun—as staff members sit in the circle side-by-side with the students.

They are exploring and creating together.

THE PRESENT

From the dance instructor:

Recently we’ve seen baseball-loving Wyatt use a walker instead of his chair and speak more frequently.  He and other students hit a large foam ball with a plastic bat to baseball-themed music, followed by dancing around the “bases.”  

By learning what each student enjoys and responds to, we can tailor the class to specific interests and skills.  We’re also able to see progress from focus on individual movement to group movement. This social awareness helps bring students “out of their shell” toward meaningful interaction with others and in turn-taking, such as with musical selections.  Another student has become more patient in waiting his turn and sampling other musical styles.

THE PAST

A common theme is stamina. The dance instructor explains to the students that dance takes stamina and stamina is developed through breathing exercises and to breathe correctly one must sit up straight.

One student, who, due to physical challenges, has difficulty in sitting up straight, took this counsel to heart.  After several classes, the teacher instructed the young woman in her breathing exercises and to her surprise and delight, the student sat up straight.

Astonished, the instructor asked, “What happened?”

The student replied: “I want to dance.”

Adaptive Dance and the RIDGE After School Program are supported in part by a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the John A and Carol A Hubbard Charitable Foundation. 

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