GEM Center Project by Ms. Morrissey's 8th Grade Students

GEM Center Project by Ms. Morrissey's 8th Grade Students
Posted on 02/15/2019
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Frank Lloyd Wright Students Help Enhance a

School that Serves Children with Autism

On January 25, 2019, Christine Morrissey’s 8th grade team at Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) presented projects to the Superintendent, members of the
West Allis/West Milwaukee school board as well as their friends and family.  The projects and plans were constructed to help enhance the Growing Exceptional Minds (GEM) Center in Parker, Co., which is a non-profit, year-round K-8 school serving children who are high functioning with Autism and those with co-occurring social-emotional and behavioral challenges.   

Upon discussion with her friend and founder of the GEM Center, Morrissey saw an opportunity for collaboration around a Deeper Learning Project.  The GEM Center was a barn that was renovated into classrooms by Morrissey’s friend in response to the mistreatment of her daughter and other students who are high functioning with Autism.  The school district is focusing on engaging students in real-life problems. Wanting them to develop skills that involve research, collaboration, and communication. Morrissey presented the project to the FLW students who were asked to help create the best possible learning environment they could imagine for the GEM students.  

Students first researched Autism and studied the best strategies, products and concepts that have been developed.  Then some of the FLW students who are high functioning with Autism explained to their classmates what a school day was like for them to help with understanding.  FLW teachers of students with special needs were interviewed and their classrooms were visited. Then, the students learned about the GEM Center, Skyping and emailing with teachers, therapists, and students to see what their needs were.  The students then designed their projects using imagination and research to help create an optimal learning environment. Once the students built rough plans, they had to price out their proposals and put together a feasible step by step solution that the GEM school could follow.  Students called Parker area businesses and specialists to ensure that their ideas could be brought to fruition.

Groups collaborated with each other on a variety of projects.  One group redesigned the school’s web page with enhanced information about the school.  Another group researched resources to help the school with finances. The “Animal Therapy” group created multiple options for therapy animal programs to be implemented.  The “Master Builders” group generated blueprints for structures that could be added, devised plans for outdoor classrooms using computer programs to create 3D models, including but not limited to, a greenhouse to help the school be more self-sufficient, a barn for housing future animals, a playground etc.  The “Infinite Art” group created models of art installations that could also be used as sensory calming devices as well as to enhance the overall feel of the building. The “Musically Inclined” group worked with Parker area music teachers on steps to implement a music program as well as creating playlists to help enhance learning through calming.  Other students chose to work on individual project such as constructing a miniature version of a possible pool for aquatherapy, implementing a bilingual program for both verbal and non-verbal students, one student worked with a company to create calming stuffed animals for students with sensory issues and so many more. Each group contacted businesses to find donations and to price out their projects.   

In the end, Morrissey brought in Superintendent Lexmond, members of the Board of Education and the student’s parents to review their work.  These guests from the community acted as the ‘The GEM Center Board’ and students had to present their research as though they were meeting with a bank to secure a loan.  “We did this as our trial run before recording our actual presentations for the GEM Center,” Morrissey stated.

The student projects were a success. As Morrissey further shares, “Our students had so many amazing ideas!  It was great to see how engaged they were in the learning process. They consistently strived to create the best possible environment for our friends at the GEM Center. I loved how professional they were when presenting their thinking to a group of adults. I am extremely proud of them!”