Photo by Steve Irvine.
Emily Nelson, left, and Ellen Anson work with a color spinner for their multi-handicap art class.
Multi-handicap students at Rocky Ridge Elementary have new art projects because of a grant funded by the Hoover City Schools Foundation.
The $1,020 grant, titled “Reachable/Teachable Art,” was co-authored by Rocky Ridge art teacher Emily Nelson and multi-handicap instructional support teacher Ellen Anson.
“For me, I don’t care if all my students are making the same paper plate frog,” said Anson, who has six students enrolled in her class for the upcoming school year. “I want them to experience the process, the sensory aspect of it. Emily was interested in the exact same thing. She recognized that was an important component for my students — not just to make the project, but to experience the process. It was great collaboration for that reason.”
Anson, who was a finalist for 2014-15 Alabama Teacher of the Year, is a veteran special education teacher. She has been at Rocky Ridge since 2008. It is the second successive school year that the school has started a program for students with multiple disabilities.
Last year, Anson received a grant to enhance the music program for her students. This year’s decision to pursue a similar program in art was a team effort.
“Ellen’s students would come into my room, mainly for socialization purposes, to have art a couple of days a week,” Nelson said. “They were combined with another class. I didn’t really get much time to pay attention to them and actually teach them and work with them very much. They were making progress, I saw it, but I thought they deserved more attention.”
That led to a conversation about finding a way to create class time for these students.
Part of the grant proposal, Anson said, was the opportunity to include “general education peers” as helpers to “maybe plant some seeds into the minds of students who might want to work with children with special needs as they explore some future career opportunities.”
Nelson said the first year of the program will be “a test year.” Some of the supplies can also be used in other parts of the education process for the children.
“Many of the supplies that we’ve ordered are things we’ll be using all the time, like communication devices,” Anson said. “We are building communication. We are doing a lot of sensory type things. Things that meet all of the sensory input — hearing, smelling, touching, seeing. We’re getting things like bubble powders and paints, smelly markers. Things that they can experience, not only by touching or seeing but also from another aspect.”
The program also allows multi-handicap students a better chance to participate in the student art shows.
“We had a few [multi-handicap] students who finished paintings that went into the art show last year,” Nelson said. “That was a taste of what was possible. They made their own marks on paper and, for these students, that’s pretty huge. I believe in art therapy and Mrs. Anson believes in art therapy, so we want to see where this program can take these students.”