Over 120 preschoolers from the New York Institute for Special Education recently participated in the school’s annual “Trike-a-Thon,” in efforts to raise needed funding for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The event, held on Thursday, May 13, at Frampton Hall on Astor Avenue in Pelham Gardens, had students from the school’s ‘readiness program’ ride their tricycles through the halls of the school to raise money and awareness for the urgent work that St. Jude’s carries out each year, treating an average of 8,500 children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Students aged three to five obeyed speed limits as they peddled their way around corners and down corridors to the applause of staff, with 12 classes taking turns and racing in teams throughout the course of the day. According to Elouise McIver, resident occupational therapist at the institute, the school has been holding its annual Trike-a-Thon event and supporting St. Jude’s for 20 years. “We love this event because it not only supports St. Jude’s, which is a wonderful organization, it allows our students to showcase their skills with tricycle riding, which makes them independent,” said McIver.
She added that the special needs school was closed for in-class learning last year due to COVID-19 and that this year, parents were still unable to physically attend the event, despite sanitizing protocols being in place. Instead, they were able to watch the event on the school’s website. McIver said she believed the students were able to raise several hundred dollars for St. Jude’s as faculty members of the school sponsored different classes that had participated in the event.
The New York Institute for Special Education was founded in 1831 as The New York Institute for the Blind and is one of the oldest schools in America that provides education and specialized services for children with disabilities. The school relocated to the Bronx in 1924, and currently has more than 250 students from across the five boroughs and Westchester County, including over 100 students who reside in the Bronx and who attend the school’s preschool program.
Organizers said the event is also a way for the children to demonstrate their gross motor skills. According to pathways.org, motor skills are essential for physical strength and movement. They are used everyday throughout our lives, and help us move and do everything from lifting heavy items to typing on a keyboard.
Motor skills and motor control begin developing after birth, and progress as children grow. Having good motor control also helps children explore the world around them, which can help with many other areas of development. Motor skills are broken up into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Mastering both are important for children’s growth and independence. Gross motor skills are movements related to large muscles such as legs, arms, and trunk. Fine motor skills are movements involving smaller muscle groups such as those in the hand and wrist.
As reported, youngsters on both sides of Pelham Parkway often celebrate Halloween with an annual parade which was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus. In efforts to make up for that, the NYPD’s 49th precinct, based on Eastchester Road, held two separate, outdoor, socially-distanced pumpkin-carving events at the station-house on October 22. A trick or treat event was also held around the same time. The success of the event helped create a safe, new, likely annual tradition for families in the Pelham Parkway and Morris Park areas.
Speaking to Norwood News at the time, Barbara Philips, who works with the children at the school, told us their disabilities range from developmental delays to language impairments, and many have social difficulties. Funding comes through the Board of Education. “They’re referred through the local school district,” said Philips. “So, we’re not really private, but they do have to come through their local district in the Bronx to come here, and they do have to have an underlying disability.”
She said the school can always use more money. “I don’t think we’ve had a tuition increase in a few years, and I think what we’re facing now is the children are coming with more difficulties, so they need more services, and we don’t always have the funds to be able to hire people like that.”
She stressed that the school had a very good board of directors who she said fully supports their programs. Philips said that during the worse part of the pandemic, many of the usual activities had to be suspended, and that this had caused setbacks with the children’s progression, since they usually try to hold an activity at least once a month for them.
Philips said she and her colleagues found that when they held activities for the children that allowed them to move around, like last year’s trick or treat event, when their parents took them out into the community, the children were less frightened as they had learned skills during those activities that they could later apply in a community setting.
“Whether it be a party or another trick or treat, they could learn those skills here, not be afraid of sounds that they are not familiar with, and then the parents will be able to cope with them better,” she said at the time.
Speaking about the impact of the shutdown on the children, and how they had to adapt to remote learning, she said, “You know, it’s hard, because you might have families that have two or three children. They have one device in the home for remote learning. They, themselves, need it for work, you know, so it’s very difficult managing their sensory needs at home, if the TV’s too loud or sometimes, if they feel uncomfortable, they can’t tell the parent what they feel uncomfortable about.”
She said keeping the children busy in ways other than being on an iPad was important. “We call the families, and we tell them that heavy work is good for the children, and what does that mean? That they need to feel their bodies in space so can they push the laundry basket? Can they take the cans of groceries and put them on the shelf for you?”
Philips continued, “So, while you don’t think you’re working with your child, and you don’t have time to work with your child, they’re helping you with household activities, right? And it’s benefiting them. So, you know, maybe in the bathtub, go over shaving cream and do the ABCs or the numbers, up their ADL skills. Can they do a fork, knife, and spoon? So, we do try to make them [the parents] realize that they really are doing work with them at home. I think over the COVID, we had so many children that were toilet trained, and the parents were acknowledged that you do realize what you’re teaching them?”
Philips said the biggest frustration was often behavior difficulties, which were compounded by being at home for six months. “They need to jump and run, and get outside,” she said.
She said parents would sometimes bring their kids to street fairs, but the kids wouldn’t go on the bouncy castles until they first tried them out in a familiar environment at the school and experienced them safely. Afterwards, she said they were often able to handle it in the community.
Asked about accessibility in general and the challenges faced by parents in getting around the borough with their children, Philips said, “So, things like that are intimidating to parents,” she said. “They may not know why their child will not go in an elevator, and you know, it could be so much as a perfume scent that’s bothering them.”
She said, again, a lot of it was teaching the children to get familiar with their surroundings. “We have an event here in the spring. It’s called big meals on campus, and we get fire engines, the ambulances, motorcycles, and the street cleaners, and a lot of the kids are afraid they’re going to be sucked up [by the various machines]. So, they get to see the sounds, and hear the sounds so that the parents have told us when they go back to the community, they’re not as afraid,” she said.
* Síle Moloney contributed to this story.