Students in one Morrow County school have found a new and better way to learn.

Jill Wright and Deborah Sherman, both teachers at A.C. Houghton Elementary School, presented data to the Morrow County school board Monday night that show Bal-A-Vis-X, a series of exercises involving balls, balance boards and sand-filled bags, has dramatically improved test scores among the school's at-risk and special needs students.

"You don't know these kids, but some of these videos bring tears to our eyes because of how good they are doing," Wright told the board before showing a recording of students performing the exercises.

Groups of children rhythmically bounced two balls at once, or passed small bags from one hand to another. Sometimes the exercises were accompanied by memorization techniques, such as a recital of multiplication tables.

The Bal-A-Vis-X exercises improve academics, Wright said, because they engage both hemispheres of the brain. For students to focus well and retain information, studies show, the sides of their brain must be in communication.

One small boy, Wright said, was unable to even catch a ball before learning Bal-A-Vis-X. Now he can bounce a ball with one hand while switching a second ball from hand to hand. One girl, who is "borderline elective mute," will speak during sessions when the group gives exercise directions in unison.

"What we're seeing with them is phenomenal," Sherman said. She showed the board the results of Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) tests, which showed that the students who practiced Bal-A-Vis-X improved by an average of three points more than those students who did not do the exercises.

Some students improved so much they no longer needed an individual education plan and could spend most of their time in a regular classroom. One fourth-grader actually improved by 20 test points in one year, going from needing an individual education plan to meeting the fourth-grade benchmark.

Sherman said she hopes to have all students at A.C. Houghton practice Bal-A-Vis-X. But it's important to remain true to the intensive, one-on-one instruction needed to learn the exercises correctly, she said.

Wright and Sherman invited the board members to learn a Bal-A-Vis-X maneuver. Barney Lindsay and Nancy Vander Does volunteered, then received training from "peer teachers" - Kyle Wheeler, 5, Tyson Stocker, 5, and Karlee Gale. When Vander Does and Lindsay returned, they demonstrated a few simple exercises.

Assistant Superintendent Phyllis Danielson also got into the act, practicing with Tyson Stocker. Danielson said she was surprised to discover that the exercises are not so easy at first, especially if you have "midline issues" - a difficulty tracking balls across the midline of the body.

"You can feel the two hemispheres talking," she said.

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