Program benefits students with special needs

Thursday, February 6, 2003

Melinda Laffoon Smith, former teacher at Buffalo Island Central, is in her first year at Nettleton Fox Meadow Elementary School, where she teaches special education. Her self-contained classroom has 10 students.

Smith's positive energy carries over to her classroom and she has always looked for ways to enhance her student's curriculum. Smith came up with an idea for her students called "Fine Arts and Me" (FAME). The program, originally funded through a grant, has been so successful for her students that when the grant funds were exhausted, a committee of parents started a drive to secure funding to prolong the program.

The project was started due to the fact that Smith wanted her children to get out more.

"There was a speaker from the Foundation of Arts at our district orientation just before the school year started and she offered assistance to the school. Then Kim Wilbanks (grants director for the Nettleton Public Schools) spoke about some special grants available and I just put things together from there," Smith said.

Smith invited representatives from the Foundation of Arts to meet the children in her classroom. She explained some of the things the students were working on in the class as well as various goals and objectives from speech, physical and occupational therapies. Smith said the people at the foundation were more than happy to put together a program so the students could experience classes in art, drama and dance that incorporated skills the children were working on at school.

Smith acquired a grant for $500 which was enough to get the program started. The money paid for the cost of the professional instructors at the Foundation of Arts and transportation expenses from Oct. 4 through Nov. 22.

FAME was one of nine grants awarded to Nettleton teachers for the 2002-2003 school year. The Nettleton Education Foundation was established in October 2001 to provide financial support to the district. Efforts of the foundation are directed toward inspiring students to reach new levels of excellence, enhancing learning experiences, enabling teachers to become more effective, encouraging visionary teaching strategies and extending the scope of educational experiences.

Smith's students spent one hour every Friday for eight weeks at the Foundation of Arts. The activities strengthened social skills as well as improving eye-hand coordination by painting, cutting and drawing.

In addition, the efforts helped students in displaying situation-appropriate emotions through drama and role playing and provided opportunities for them to use listening skills to follow directions.

"The people from the Foundation of Arts are great. They modified the programs for the children. Every week's visit was a new adventure for the students. They came away with not only artwork but extra self-esteem and happy memories," Smith said.

When the FAME funding ran out Smith said the parents wanted their children to be able to continue in the program and found funding so the program could be extended. She expressed her appreciation on behalf of the students.

The Jonesboro Junior Auxiliary donated $300 and EMJ Metals of Memphis gave $200.

Smith's students have started taking martial art lessons from Jim and Melanie Smothers at Black Belt Self Defense and Fitness. The students have had their second karate class and Smith said they are enjoying the experience.

"The instructors are great with the children and they are doing well in these activities," Smith said.

Smith said there is a need in the area and she is looking for more activities that can be beneficial to her students.

She said she is looking into starting a week long summer camp for children with special needs.

"This would not necessarily be a school camp but one for the entire area. I think it could be a good experience for children," Smith said.

Smith expressed her gratitude to all that helped in the project.

Smith and her family moved to Jonesboro last year. She and her husband, Greg Smith, have two children, Lindsey, who is in the eighth grade at Nettleton Junior High School, and Matt, who is in the sixth grade at Nettleton Intermediate School.

Smith is a 1984 graduate of Leachville High School, the last graduating class of LHS. The Leachville and Monette School Districts consolidated the next year to form Buffalo Island Central District. She graduated from Arkansas State University with a degree in special education and elementary education. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ronnie Laffoon.

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