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Unique program helps students focus

A series of rhythmic exercises, most of which are done with beanbags and racquetballs while standing on a balance board, is helping students focus in the classroom. Known as Bal-A-Vis-X, the Balance, Auditory and Vision Exercises curriculum may sound odd but has provided teachers across the district with proven methods to help students stay on task and achieve higher results.

Susan Snyder, a teacher at Kennedy Elementary, was living in Wichita, Kansas, when she first learned about the program. Her daughter was struggling in school, so she agreed to attend a training for the program when her principal was looking for volunteers. Developed by Bill Hubert, the program teaches brain-body exercises that cross a person’s midline, which helps students stimulate both sides of their brain.

“It was enlightening,” she said. “During the training, I learned a lot about why my daughter was struggling and how to apply what I learned at home and in the classroom. And, the best part is that exercises can be completed in groups, pairs or individually so the program works in a lot of settings.”

Snyder’s daughter was high school junior at the time of her training and her grades were suffering. The program’s founder took an interest in her and hired the student as an intern. She traveled internationally to help other students learn the techniques. The next year, her grade point average improved to a 4.0. Snyder was a believer. When she moved to Oklahoma and began teaching at Kennedy, she mentioned the program to the district’s professional development team.

“After hearing Susan’s story and researching the benefits for students, we knew this would be a wonderful resource for our teachers,” said Beth Spears, director of Staff Development and Student Achievement.

At one high school, a physical education teacher who is trained in the program was dealing with a student who regularly acts out and found it difficult to focus on assigned tasks. She took the student aside, put him on a balance board and gave him some Bal-A-Vis-X exercises to complete. After only five minutes, he was focused and able to stay on task for the remainder of gym class. Now when the student begins to feel out of control, he asks to step away to complete a few exercises so he can calm down.

“This program works,” said Ramona Hale, a traveling physical education teacher. “During one of the trainings, the kids came in with their heads down and little to no self confidence . By the end of the day, they were literally skipping around with their parents.”

At McKinley Elementary, Courtney Todd says her students are starting to recognize when they are losing focus. “Students who have trouble staying on task are more aware now that they need to do some of the exercises and they seek it out,” she said.

Teachers are also trained to find dominant features in students. Danielle McHale, a Jackson Elementary teacher, explained how the program taught her to find a student’s dominate ear, which is something she had never before considered. She uses the information when deciding where students should sit to help ensure their dominate ear is closest to her.

“We provide their parents with a diagram that illustrates their child’s dominate features,” she said. “This helps them make small changes in how they interact with their child, such as making sure they speak near a specific ear when they are delivering an important message.”

The program also provides an opportunity for students to gain confidence by sharing what they have learned with others. Eisenhower Elementary teacher Hadley Spears became interested in the program after hearing about it from others in the district.

“One of our students had difficulty focusing in class and was disruptive as a result,” she said. “After a week of doing Bal-A-Vis-X with him, his teacher said he was a different kid who is respectful in class. Now, he is teaching other students how to do the exercises and it’s really boosted his self esteem and confidence.”