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Sault school helps children to ‘VEER’ off

Pilot exercise program launched in January at Our Lady of Lourdes; yielding positive results for children with special needs
20190417-H-SCDSB VEER program-DT
Annette Yanni, educational assistant, Tyler Belanger, 17 Barbells Strength and Conditioning owner/operator, educational consultant and tutor, and Domenic Rosso, Our Lady of Lourdes principal, address administrators and trustees at the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB) regular monthly meeting, April 17, 2019. Darren Taylor/SooToday

A Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB) elementary school, with the help of a local fitness expert, has launched a pilot exercise program which is helping students with physical and/or emotional issues to either calm down or get motivated, depending on their needs, in order to assist them in their classroom learning.

The Vigorous Exercise for Emotional Regulation (VEER) program was launched in January, after Domenic Rosso, Our Lady of Lourdes principal, approached Tyler Belanger, 17 Barbells Strength and Conditioning owner/operator, educational consultant and tutor for help in designing a program to help students self regulate.    

“I’m there supporting a student who’s had a brain injury. Part of my education consulting and tutoring services is working with those types of students. Dom and I sat down and figured out the program,” Belanger told SooToday after Wednesday’s H-SCDSB regular monthly board meeting.

“We all need self regulation, and this program is basically stress management. We all handle stress differently, but with youth, it’s a little more complex to communicate,” VEER assisting children on the autism spectrum or those who suffer from anxiety or depression.

“Self regulation is the ability to recognize you’re in an elevated state and calm down to match the appropriate level of arousal for a particular environment. If someone is too bouncy and excited for a math lesson, they’re not self regulated, so we use mutual regulation (as one way of dealing with students in an elevated state).”

Mutual regulation, Belanger explained, involves a teacher, an educational assistant (EA) or a friend helping a student through steps to either calm down or get motivated.

“Self regulation is being able to do that on your own,” Belanger said.

Daily VEER sessions at Our Lady of Lourdes consist of vigorous exercise in order to get students engaged in learning activities and to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by boosting endorphins which help the brain manage the perception of pain.

An area on the school’s stage has been set up for VEER, keeping student safety in mind.

Matting has been laid out on the floor, with a barrier set up to prevent students from jumping on and off the stage.

While all the equipment being used is heavy for some of the children, it is soft and can’t cause injury if accidentally dropped on a body part.

An EA is always on hand to monitor the students, the children able to access the space and work out throughout the day, if necessary, as a way to help cope with stressful situations.

The program helps students fidget less, become more focused, have an improved ability to learn better and improve communication skills.

After each workout, the EA uses an app called TrainHeroic, which tracks and records all the student’s work. The data can be accessed by parents using the student’s school email address and password created by the EA and student and the app downloadable on to any smartphone or tablet at home. A survey is sent home so parents can give feedback concerning any behaviour changes seen in their children at home.    

Parent testimonials, shown in a video presentation at Wednesday’s meeting, spoke of children arriving home after school in a more relaxed state as a result of VEER.

VEER sessions begin at the start of the school day, and/or right after lunch, Belanger said.

There are currently six students involved in VEER at Our Lady of Lourdes.

“They keep adding. But because it is a pilot program we want to control the environment a little bit and make sure each EA is prepared,” Belanger said.

A JK to Grade 3 VEER program started up earlier this month, with current participants drawn from Grades 4 to 8.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Belanger.

“I’m in the school every morning, and if the EAs have any questions I’m there for support. It’s still a pilot, so we want to work out any kinks or communication problems,” Belanger said, adding he anticipates the program will be back for the next school year in September.


Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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