Manhattan School District hosts non-traditional education conference
By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor
MANHATTAN – Imagine if bouncing racquetballs and tossing bean bags in a specific rhythm could help people with visual and auditory challenges, behavioral disorders and post traumatic stress disorder.
Bill Hubert, a longtime educator and creator of a program called Bal-a-Vis-X, says it can, while also assisting others like orthopedic and neurological patients, gifted students, those with special needs, and athletes.
Short for Balance-Auditory-Vision-Exercises, the program teaches a series of more than 300 balance/auditory/vision exercises, most of which are done with sand-filled bags and/or racquetballs, often while standing on a balance board.
After holding a conference at Manhattan Elementary School west of Bozeman this September, Hubert is returning Feb. 7-9 to teach Bal-A-Vis-X to a group of educators, occupational and physical therapists, counselors, administrators and parents.
There was no magic moment of starting the program, which he calls “a process that began more than 30 years ago.” In addition to teaching first grade in Wichita, Kansas public school for 15 years, Hubert spent 15 years teaching seventh grade English and history, and five teaching literature at Western Michigan University. During much of that time he was also instructing martial arts.
“Martial arts is based on rhythm and balance, and because of that experience and long association with marital arts, I could watch my struggling 7-year-olds through the twin lenses of balance and rhythm,” Hubert said. “The ones who struggled the most were the ones lacking balance and rhythm the most.”
Deeply rooted in rhythm, the exercises “are designed to cross the mid-line and require full-body coordination and focused attention,” according to information from the Manhattan School District.
“Essentially, the program addresses the issues present in almost anyone struggling, whether it’s physical or cognitive or social struggle,” Hubert said. “Because people who struggle at base almost always are lacking flow, and flow is rooted directly in rhythm and balance.”
Amanda Priquette, a K-8 special educator in Manhattan School District, attended her first Bal-a-Vis-X training three years ago in Helena, and says the benefits were evident right away.
Priquette typically teaches the exercises for 10-15 minutes each morning, and says she’s seen that her students “are more focused, and [afterward] they concentrate when it comes time to do their academics.
“My kids love it, and they don’t really know when they’re doing it that it’s helping them… Kids who aren’t really usually athletic catch on super quick,” said Priquette, who is helping organize the upcoming workshop.
Some of her students can’t participate in athletics, but can be part of this program – and even sometimes help teach other kids, she said.
This will be Priquette’s fifth Bal-a-Vix-X training, and she learns something new at each one, she said. “It’s not just for kids that have special needs. I believe in it so much, I’ve seen it work so well that I want other people to be able to learn it and do it in their classrooms.”
Priquette said anyone can use the program, and many teachers she knows in the Manhattan and Helena districts use it in regular classrooms.
Because the exercises can become increasingly complex or be modified for those with special needs, they can help a range of people, Hubert explained, including those with cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, fetal alcohol syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, autism and so on.
This doesn’t mean participants have to walk around the rest of their lives with balls in their pockets, Hubert said. In fact, they can learn to self-monitor.
“I saw such significant impact doing this in a few minutes, that I raised my hand and said we’ll do it again here,” said educational consultant Pam Broome, who helped organize the February session after attending in September. Many of Broome’s students have trouble reading, and Bal-a-Vis-X helps them train their eyes to track better, a vital element of reading.
Hubert and his team host Bal-a-Vix-X conferences around the country and internationally, and are scheduled to teach in Germany, Paris, London, Belgium, Scotland, Slovenia, Mexico City and Singapore in 2014.
The Manhattan School District is sponsoring the session in February with support from the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
Manhattan School District will host the Bal-A-Vis-X conference Feb. 7-9, with spots for 60 attendees. Participants must be over 18 and attend all three days. It offers 17 hours of continuing education credits; OP/PT credits pending. Find more information at manhattan.schoolwires.com/domain/106 and bal-a-vis-x.com.
Visual and auditory challenged individuals note improvement in nuances of sound, academic success, visual form perception, and ocular tracking.
Behavioral disorder, attention deficit and learning challenged individuals note cognitive integration and attention span increases and impulsivity decreases.
Gifted students note increase in academics with decreased stress.
Orthopedic patients improve posture, strength and coordination.
Athletes report higher levels of coordination such as better ball handling skills and batting averages.
Neurological patients are noted to have improved balance, coordination and speech.