New Garfield Center aims to meet student needs, form community

By Jennifer Spencer

Special to CUSD Today

The area's most needy students, the medically fragile, the severely disabled, have found a home at the Garfield Center at Garfield Elementary School.
The children, ranging from 3 to 18 years old, are lovingly cared for by a group of teachers, medical personnel and staff who Garfield Principal Jessica Mele calls "angels."
"They are angels," says Mele. "The care they give to their students is wonderful."
The center, on the Garfield campus, is both a medical therapy and an educational facility that focuses on sensory and motor skills as well as mobility activities. “Curriculum is based on each student’s intensity of needs,” says John Thomas, program specialist.
Because of the severe health needs of the children, medical personnel along with special education teachers and instructional assistants all help the students.
Mele, the new principal of Garfield, says her responsibility is to meet the needs of all the students at Garfield, including the 27 students at the Garfield Center, which opened this school year.
The Garfield Center students arrive at school daily just like the students at the elementary school. They are not ambulatory and require wheelchairs for transportation and mobility.
Teachers help the students learn to sit, stand and walk, as well as with other educational activities. The rooms are filled with bright colors and even a specially designed swing for the physically challenged students.
The students interact with the teachers and other staff members who have constant smiles on their faces as they ask how each are doing and change their positions so they can learn to sit up or even hold their head up. The students respond back with big grins on their faces. It's easy to see there is a loving bond between the staff and the students.
Mele, who has a background in special education and was a learning director at Clovis West High School, quickly worked to have the Garfield Center students and their parents become part of the Garfield campus.
This past summer was spent getting the new facility ready for the students, some starting in July and others when the school year started on Aug. 22.
One of the goals was to integrate the new parents with the Garfield school community. And with the school year just starting, that has already happened, Mele says.
The Garfield parent club donated a copy machine to the center. The Garfield Center parents are going to have a booth at the school's carnival.
"Parents need to feel connected to a school community," says Mele.
The Garfield Center parents will take part in the school’s back to school night, open houses, carnival, all activities of a school community.
"All parents are embracing each other," she says. "It is quickly becoming a very close community."
Garfield students have also embraced the new members of the Garfield community. Sixth grade students spend their recess every morning at the center helping the students and the teachers. Mele says they talk to the students, work on art projects with them and help them with other activities.
Are the Garfield sixth-graders enjoying working with the students? A big yes, says Mele. In fact some of the sixth-graders have asked if they can spend their afternoon recess there too.
"I asked them if they were sure they wanted to do that. They said, 'yes.' They want to help more."
Frank Hernandez, a teacher for the fourth to sixth grade students at the center, says their day includes circle time with sensory activities.
The children are taught in the MOVE (Mobility Opportunities Via Education) program. There they are helped to learn to sit, stand and walk with the help of the specially designed equipment. The MOVE program is an activity-based curriculum designed to teach students basic, functional motor skills needed for adult life within a home or community environment. The students learn increasing motor independence necessary to sit, stand and walk.
Hernandez says instructors work with the students daily. The program varies for each student depending on his or her disability.
Beth Ray, first, second and third grade teacher, says daily instruction includes music, stories and other activities.
And one of their favorite activities is a big parachute used during story time.
"They just love that," says Ray. "You should see them all smiling."
Parents also learn at the center. Staff members instruct them on how to position their children at home to increase their mobility.
"It's everyone working together to make this happen," says Mele. "It is the first facility like this in Clovis and it is already making such a big impact in these children's lives."