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West suburban students find there’s no tastier therapy than making pizza

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A group of west suburban teens found a pizza-making field trip delicious, as well as therapeutic.

The teens attend intensive afternoon sessions at the Center for Independence through Conductive Education in Countryside. The center specializes in offering physical and occupational therapy to children with motor disorders resulting from damage or disease to the central nervous system.

Children and teens learn by doing and by watching each other, said occupational therapist Josephine Boggs. The Via Bella restaurant in Countryside provided a perfect classroom for the outing.

“We cook at the center on Fridays, and this is our first time coming here. It’s a big deal,” said Gabrielle Molnar, who trained to become a conductive education therapist in Hungary, where the treatment program was developed.

Students spend the mornings at their home schools and are bused to the Countryside center for intensive therapy from 1 to 4 p.m. for periodic four-week sessions. Many students have been coming for five years or more.

Lyons Township High School freshman Grace Ligon of Western Springs carefully stretched out the dough provided on a cardboard circle. The 15-year-old added a ladle of sauce with some assistance and tasted a green pepper strip before loading up her pizza with cheese, pepperoni and peppers.

Matthew Paveleck, 15, who attends Downers South High School, took a minimalist approach in creating his pizza, adding one strand of cheese at a time.

Sophia Jablonski, who attends Central Middle School in Tinley Park, said she was pleased to add pizza chef to her growing resume.

“I’m involved in Girl Scouts, bowling, cheer leading and I’m on a Lego robotics team,” Sophia said. “I play bass drum in the band and danced in a production of the Nutcracker. I also play baseball.”

Sophia said therapy at the center has helped her become more independent and participate in a variety of activities.

“I’ve been coming since I was 7,” she said. “My walking has gotten a lot better, I’m eating better on my own and my sitting has improved.”

Molnar said many of the students live with cerebral palsy and use motorized wheelchairs at school and on outings.

“But at the center, we take them out of the wheelchairs the whole three hours they are with us,” she said. “We teach them to sit independently and use walkers.”

Students often are given time to do homework, given the academic demands of high school. But teens still are working their muscles in a standing position with leg supports, Molnar said.

“With intensive motor learning, you have to work on your skills every day,” she said.

In addition to the pizza-making field trip, students have taken monthly outings to a bank, a pumpkin patch, the zoo and adapted sports programs through the South East Association for Special Parks and Recreation.

For more information, visit www.center-for-independence.org.

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