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April 27, 2005 - Four Aquinas College students are set to become the first United States-trained teacher-conductors in the Conductive Education method, a complex educational system which teaches adults and children with motor disabilities to become more functional members of society. The four, the first graduates of the College's Physically and/or Otherwise Health Impaired Program (POHI), are: Clare Avery of Macomb, Michigan; Andrea Gainok of New London, Ohio; Melissa Kelly of Arlington Heights, Illinois; and Jamieson McCormick of Belmont, Michigan

They will receive their diplomas along with 340 other attending members of the 2005 graduating class during Commencement ceremonies slated for Saturday, May 7, 2005, beginning at 2 p.m. in the Aquinas College Field House.

The students are not only the first U.S.-trained teacher-conductors, but they are the first trained in the western hemisphere. The Conductive Education method was developed in the mid-1940s and is taught at the Peto Institute in Hungary, Poland, where, until now, all conductors were trained.

Kathy Barker, a professor in the POHI program, says conductive education methods focus primarily on young children because there is a window of opportunity for creating functional use through neural and cognitive processes. Habilitation of these skills leads to a higher quality of life for youngsters with motor disabilities.

These first four graduates have demonstrated a passion and commitment to do this work. They've gone the extra mile to become excellent teachers, Barker added.

This degree and certification is something that we have all worked extremely hard for, said senior Melissa Kelly. I think we would all say that we have been able to put this dedication and love into this program and conductive education because we believe so strongly in it and have a passion for making it succeed.

Students complete three years of study in the Conductive Education methodology and then apply what they learn in the lab classroom at the Conductive Learning Center (CLC) on Burton Street S.E. in Grand Rapids. There, they work side-by-side with conductors from the Peto Institute, learning first-hand the techniques that give hope to so many children with motor disabilities.

Working closely with the conductors at the CLC has been an invaluable experience and it may be possible that I've learned even more from the children, said senior Clare Avery.

The techniques involve helping the clients develop feelings of self-esteem. The goal of the program is to help children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other motor challenges to achieve optimal independence and cognitive function.

The four graduates either have jobs or are still deciding between several opportunities. Kelly plans to work at a conductive education school in Illinois. Beyond that, she thinks, she would love to take conductive education to new places in the United States.

It would be wonderful to be given the opportunity to start up a new school or a satellite school in an area that is searching for conductive education, she said.

For Andrea Gainok, being among the first U-S trained conductors in Conductive Education holds special meaning and demonstrates leadership.

It's a sign of hard work and determination. Whenever any person begins a new journey, the road is always difficult. However, it is even more challenging if no one has previously traveled down the road to create a path for you, said Gainok. I hope to continue to grow in my leadership for many years to come.