HES students having a ball with new exercise program

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
How can the activity of bouncing balls have a calming effect on children?

This actually happens at Hillsboro Elementary School when students in Becky Carlson’s physical-education class work with a new series of exercises called Bal-A-Vis-X (bal-uh-VIZ-eks).

The unusual name is derived from a combination of rhythmic Balance/Auditory/Vision eXercises and was developed by Bill Hubert, a teacher at Hadley Middle School in Wichita.

Students at HES manipulate racquetballs in a series of exercises and rhythm that requires up to 10 to 15 minutes of focus and full-body coordination.

“It definitely calms kids down,” Carlson said. “That’s what it’s used for. The focus has to be on watching the balls, you cannot vary from that.”

Carlson started incorporating the new program of Bal-A-Viz-X into her physical-education curriculum in spring 2002.

“Ninety percent of it is just form and focus,” Carlson said. “If they have the right form and they focus on the ball, most of the kids can do it.”

This school year, she used Bal-A-Viz-X as a one-month unit and after that, Carlson has used it off and on as she feels necessary to supplement her curriculum in grades kindergarten through five.

“It’s a program to help kids focus and concentrate, and it also helps their coordination,” Carlson said, which of course, as a PE teacher, I’m really all about that.”

HES counselor Mike Moran is one of those instrumental in implementing the new program in the elementary school after being trained under Hubert.

“I went to the training and really thought it was something we needed to promote in the school,” Moran said.

“I did a lot of it last year. I used it as a tool with kids who had a hard time staying on task.”

Realizing it would be appropriate in the physical-education program, Moran introduced the idea to Carlson, who also attended a workshop.

“I’m almost out of it now,” Moran said. “I was more like a cheerleader for it, and now other people have taken it on.”

The Bal-A-Viz-X program was initially developed by Hubert to help children with learning difficulties.

Hubert noticed that those children often exhibited certain behavior patterns, such as an inability to control their eyes, focus attention and sit or stand without moving; a rhythmless gait while walking or running and rhythmless cadence while talking or reading aloud; general clumsiness; and mental and/or physical apathy.

But over the past 20 years,the program has evolved into a tool designed to benefit all children.

“That’s what I teach is all students,” Carlson said. “And that’s what we do here is all students.”

Its proponents say it can benefit the athlete,the gifted student, the child with learning disabilities, the behaviorily disordered, the attention-deficit disordered and the regular student.

Literature suggests that the only students who don’t profit from the program are those who refuse to follow instructions.

The current goals of the Bal-A-Viz-X program, according to information from Hubert, is as follows:

—  To improve cognitive integration for all students, settle behavior before it escalates, decrease impulsiveness and anxiety, and increase focus.

—  To promote eye-hand coordination and growth in overall confidence and self-esteem.

—  To help students whose visual acuity may be 20/20, but have visual deficits with tracking, teaming and discriminating details.

The Bal-A-Vis-X program has been used at HES to help children with tracking problems, Moran said.

“Probably 20 percent of our kids have vision or tracking problems here at our school,” he said.

In addition to workshops, Hubert has two videos available- beginning and advanced-and a book.

“The research that he’s done and the work that he’s put into it is just incredible,” Carlson said.

HES kindergarten students are first introduced to the program as they begin working with bean bags instead of racquetballs.

Teaching her kindergarten children once a week, Carlson introduces the Bal-A-Viz-X basic skills. Students first learn to toss the bean bag. They eventually learn advanced activities, such as one in which they switch the bag to the other hand, move the bag behind their back and then take it back into the original hand.

“There’s partner stuff you can do, too,” Carlson said.

“I would have two bean bags, and you would have one. I would toss across, you would catch the two, and I would catch the one.”

By the time the students reach first grade, they put aside the bean bags and work with the racquetballs. The exercises can be performed individually, with a partner and as small-and large-group activities.

“It’s all a focus on the ball or the bean bags and doing things right all the time,” Carlson said. “And the other thing is, we’re all supposed to do it at the same time when I say, ‘Go.'”

If a child has difficulty with the task, Carlson will give them auditory clues-telling them the sound of the rhythm they’re supposed to have. She also uses older students as mentors to work one-on-one with any student learning to master the exercises.

This school year, the teachers at HES had an opportunity to attend an in-service workshop to learn about the Bal-A-Viz-X program. The workshop introduced the program concept and the opportunities to incorporate it into their curriculum.

“I’m not sure how many of them use it,” Carlson said. “Some may use it after recess” to calm the students.

Carlson has at her disposal more than 200 Bal-A-Viz-X exercises to chose from.

“We probably do about 50 to 75 (of those), and there’s probably 20 things they can do just individually,” Carlson said. “With the little kids, not near as many.”

One of the most difficult exercises is the three-ball bounce.

The individual juggles with three racquetballs but instead of tossing them up in the air, the student bounces the balls in a rhythmic sequence on the floor. Leading up to that exercise, students learn to master the two-ball bounce.

“I only have maybe seven or eight kids in the whole school who can actually do the three-ball juggle,” Carlson said. “The one with the two balls, a lot of kids can do that.”

Tuned into the reactions of her students participating in Bal-A-Viz-X, Carlson said some find it easier than others.

“And some have to really, really work at it,” she said. “But they get past frustration to the point where they’re determined they’re going to do it. And when they can, they’re excited.”

Not content to work within the school walls, Carlson has taken her students on a field trip to a wellness center in Moundridge. Working with a group of senior citizens, about seven fifth-grade students demonstrated Bal-A-Viz-X and broke out into group activities with the seniors.

In addition to the local elementary school, the Bal-A-Viz-X program has been introduced to the middle school and has been implemented in the Marion and Peabody school districts.

Sally Barnaby, elementary counselor at Peabody Elementary School, worked with two students in a before-school Bal-A-Viz-X program last year. This year, she’s working individually with one sixth-grade student and is also working with a second-grade class.

“We’re doing it daily,” Barnaby said. “We take 10 to 15 minutes a day, and I work on the Bal-A-Viz-X with her class. This is kind of a demonstration year, and the teacher volunteered to give me the time.”

Barnaby said she was happy with the program so far.

“I think for any child, it helps with eye-hand coordination,” Barnaby said. “That’s the least it can do. Added to that, anything else is a bonus. If it works for one student, it’s successful.”

Carlson also offered high praise for the Bal-A-Viz-X program.

“The most important parts of it are the focus and concentration,” Carlson said. “In any part of our lives-our jobs or as a student-focus is necessary. And I think this teaches them that.”

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