In order to provide inclusive opportunities to the area, Encompass Recreation is attempting to make things already in place more accessible to children with higher needs.
Kylie Schell, the mother of two higher needs children, brought the Healthy Kids Running Series to the area a few years ago to give her children a recreational outlet.
But she saw the need for a wider range of sporting activities for her children and others so she established a nonprofit — Encompass Recreation.
The mission of Encompass Recreation is “to provide recreational opportunities for youth, where differences are celebrated, strengths are accentuated and there is a place for everyone on our team.”
The program aims to “provide high-quality local recreational events where every child feels challenged, safe, encouraged and included.”
The new group planned to provide four events this year but has almost doubled that goal. Basketball, bowling and swimming and boating programs have already been held. Recently there was an Autism Acceptance walking and scavenger hunt event at Zoo New York at Thompson Park in Watertown. A five-week running series begins Sunday.
“The response to our programs speaks to how much they were needed,” Mrs. Schell said. “It wasn’t known until people showed up.”
For the new venture, Encompass Recreation, in cooperation with South Lewis Central School District, Black River Elementary in the Carthage Central School District and Calcium Primary in the Indian River Central School District, is piloting a program to improve accessibility to school playgrounds for non-vocal and communication delayed children.
Mrs. Schell explained these children utilize an electronic devise to aid in their communication, but it is cumbersome for the child to take the device while they go outside to play.
The three schools are testing out a Playground Core Communication Board designed by Encompass Recreation with help from Jefferson-Lewis-Hamilton-Herkimer-Oneida BOCES.
“They can use the board to communicate with staff and their peers to tell them how they feel or what they want,” Mrs. Schell said.
The board has symbols for various emotions, common words and feelings as well as for playground equipment. There are also letters of the alphabet and numbers.
Mariah Strife, Carthage Central School District elementary inclusion facilitator, described the pilot program as a wonderful opportunity for both our students and staff.
“Communication is a basic human right,” she said. “A right that should never be taken from a child, especially in a recreational environment. The playground is where students learn a majority of their social skills. The addition of this Core Communication Board to our playground allows our students who have difficulties with verbal expression to engage in socialization and play with their peers.”
She noted that inclusion is also a basic human right and with the communication board, all students have the same communicative and inclusive rights on the playground.
The inclusion facilitator said the feedback from the staff has been “unanimously positive.”
“The Core Board implementation has increased awareness, socialization, social emotional learning and inclusive opportunities for our kiddos and faculty,” Ms. Strife said. “Students of varying needs and communication methods are now able to socialize with one another, communicate their basic wants, needs, emotions and so much more. The staff at Carthage CSD are committed to increasing the number of inclusive opportunities provided to our kiddos and we hope this is just the start of many more partnerships with Encompass Recreation to come.”
Through the pilot program, Encompass Recreation will be able to fine tune the product.
“They will use this ‘beta’ version for the remainder of the school year and provide us with feedback,” Mrs. Schell said. “We will utilize that information to create a universal board that we hope all area schools will use on their playgrounds.”
She said the nonprofit would gift the communication boards to the 18 area school districts as well as public playgrounds.
If all goes according to plan, Encompass Recreation will launch the revised Communication Board at the Lewis County Fair.
“I’m glad the schools are willing to pilot the program,” the founder of the nonprofit said. “I hope the other schools and communities are supportive to increase accessibility for all kids.”
To learn more about Encompass Recreation and its programs visit the website at www.encompassrec.com or follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/encompassrecreation.
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