I did my service learning at the Florida Children’s Academy in Downtown Orlando.
While volunteering at the Florida Children’s Academy, I had many opportunities to interact with the children. There were times where I was reading a book to a group of 4 or 5 kids, and then there were times that I was working one on one with a particular student. I played puppet shows, pushed kids on the swings, as well as took children that were having a hard time interacting out of the stressful environment and worked individually with them.
Every Wednesday a fitness professional comes to the school and works with the children for an hour. They learn games and play sports with the coach. The main goal of this is for the students to learn about team play and sharing. These two pictures here were taking during the fitness hour. This game was called Bulldozers. The students each had a soccer ball and they had to kick the cones down. It was a lot harder then you think!
The picture to left was taken during center time. The students were split up into different centers: housekeeping, blocks, manipulatives, puppets, books, coloring, and sand. These children were playing with the blocks. The picture on the right is also from the fitness hour.
One day, there was a child with autism that was having a particularly hard time engaging with the other students. I took him out of the group setting, sat down with him, and together we sorted the bears by color. After that we moved them into a circle. The two drawings on the right were created by students. They gave them to me to take home and “hang on my fridge.”
CommunityConnections Tiffany Nikias Fall 2011 EEX 2010Tiffany_Nikias@knights.ucf.edu
Florida Children’s Academy The Florida Children’s Academy is located in Downtown Orlando. It was founded 20 years ago to provide childcare services for a growing international community. It has evolved and is now providing inclusion child care, both day and night, to children between the ages of 1 and 12.
Florida Children’s Academy They believe that every child deserves the opportunity to develop skills and establish a sense of self that lays the foundation for life long learning. Childcare services provided on-site are staffed with professionals aiding children to grow, develop, and improve their chances of leading healthy, productive lives. Their team includes not only educators, but also physical, speech, and occupational therapists, and behavioral specialists. Inclusion child care helps children with disabilities to be part of a classroom that enhances their skills. Children with special needs gain valuable learning experiences and are challenged to exceed in their areas when they are part of an early intervention learning environment.
Engagement Activities I volunteered at the Florida Children’s Academy for 15 hours. I did this in a period of two weeks, usually 2-3 hours a day. I engaged with the students by helping out around the classroom and interacting with them at every opportunity. I read stories with the children, had puppet shows, and played with them on the playground. By the end of my volunteer work, I had made friendly relationships with many of the students.
Participant Demographics I worked with about 10 to 12 students a day. This is how many children are enrolled at the Florida Children’s Academy. The children range from ages 2 to 5, and one 7 year old. The children come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. There is White, African American, Hispanic, Bosnian, and Caribbean, just to name a few. Because of the diverse ethnic backgrounds, students have all different linguistic heritages. Many of them have accents that are sometimes hard to understand.
Participant Demographics The students are very diverse when it comes to their culture, as well as their exceptionalities. There are some students that have autism, and others that have undiagnosed autism. One child has downs syndrome. The rest of the children that are enrolled at the Florida Children’s Academy have speech and/or occupational disabilities. They receive services and therapy to help them.
Perceptions of Differences At first I was apprehensive about this assignment. I knew I wanted to work with children with disabilities, but I never have been exposed to the actually hands-on experience of it. I have worked with many students, but I hadn’t considered their ADD or dyslexia a disability. I really enjoyed this assignment. I knew this was going to have a positive impact on me the first time I walked into my volunteer site and was introduced to the kids. They were so welcoming and sweet and at that moment I knew I was going to enjoy my time there.
Perceptions of Differences The experience that impacted me the most was seeing the students interact with one another. Since this is an inclusion setting, not all the children have a disability. If no one told me there were disabled children in the room, I wouldn’t have known. I loved seeing the children learn, work on their skills, and grow everyday. They all were so eager to make connections with people and engage in conversation with me they made me feel very welcomed.
Connections to Your Course I was completing this project for EEX 2010, Introduction To Special Education. After completing this project, three topics I better understand are cultural and linguistic diversity, learning disabilities, and emotional or behavioral disorders. Thanks to my experiences at the Florida Children’s Academy, I was exposed to students who were culturally and linguistically diverse, were diagnosed with autism and downs syndrome, and had speech/occupational disabilites. One specific lesson we learned in class was about how to protect ourselves from a student when he or she kicks, hits, strangles, or bites. Unfortunately, this came in handy. One student came at me attempting to hit me because I told him he needed to share. I was able to block my face before it was hit. In the future I will no doubt be working with students that are similar to the ones I interacted with during this project. This has given me some background experience in how to handle these students and the best ways to teach them. I want the best for my students and I want them to be able to learn to their fullest capacity.
Civic Engagement As a method of learning, I think service learning is great. A student can only learn the material so much. It’s what the student does with that material that really matters. Service learning gives us an opportunity to get the real life experience of what we are being taught. I would encourage teachers and students to embrace service learning. Not only does it let students use the information that they learn but it helps the community out as well by giving out volunteers. This experience motivated me to be more engaged in the future. I really liked volunteering with the Florida Children’s Academy and I plan to continue volunteering with them even after this course is done.
Final Thoughts This was a great project and it really opened my eyes. As a teacher, I am bound to come across students with disabilities, whether I am an exceptional ed. teacher or an elementary ed. teacher. At this day in time, inclusion is happening very fast and I will need to know how to work with students with disabilities. This project has given me the opportunity to work with students and get some background experience for the future.