Students stepping up skills

Occupational therapist Sandy Janiga, at left, and physical therapist Sara Hatch, sit with two of their Allegany-Limestone Elementary School students, Donovan Miller and Emily Baxter, who have used the steps they’re sitting on to improve their motor and safety skills. The steps were built by high school students under the direction of technology education and fine arts teacher Mike Smith.

ALLEGANY — When occupational and physical therapists at Allegany-Limestone Elementary School realized they would need a set of steps to help students with their motor and safety skills, they weren’t sure where the equipment could be purchased at a reasonable cost.

That was before they contacted technology education and fine arts teacher Mike Smith at the high school, who not only had the know-how and materials, but also had students eager to help.

The steps, that were built and ready for the class to use this year, have been a great addition to the therapy room, said the school’s occupational therapist Sandy Janiga, and physical therapist Sara Hatch.

“We have several students that we work with at the elementary level that we need to improve their negotiation skills,” said Hatch, who is employed by Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES and contracts with Allegany-Limestone. “So we had requested to purchase them, but they’re so expensive to order. Any therapy equipment is expensive.”

She said the shipping expenses for an ordered set of stairs also drove the overall cost beyond reach.

After Smith was contacted at the high school, it was determined that he would help with constructing the item while giving his students a chance to help with the project.

“I think they thought it would be a cool opportunity for the students to use their skills they’re learning at the high school and have a cost savings,” Hatch added.

Jeniga said the steps have been a big addition to their program, which provides therapy to both special education and general education students.

“I would say (we help) kids who require assistance with fine and gross motor skills to function better in their academic environment,” Jeniga explained.

The steps have been used daily and also have helped the students improve skills needed in everyday life.

“This will help them with general access to the community, the school community and the outside community,” Hatch remarked.

Another plus with the steps is that they appear to be of better quality than those that are manufactured.

“I think they are better than what you could actually order out of a therapy catalog,” Jeniga opined. “That’s why we wanted to give our kudos to (Smith) and his students.”

At the high school, Smith said a major portion of the steps were made from baltic birch plywood and better quality construction lumber for the trim which he hand-picked from good lumber.

He said the school district supplied the materials.

“I cut the pieces on the large table saw and (the students) put it together and sanded it” as well as added the finishing touches by painting the steps, he said.

Smith said six to seven students helped with the project when they had time, as they didn’t receive credit for the project in their wood carving class.

“It was all volunteerism on their part,” he said. “But they definitely enjoyed doing it.”

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

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