Grand Opening of MSE at Wayland-Cohocton Central School

Linda wanted to share with you a speech written by Mr. Robert Hughes for the Grand Opening of the MSE at Wayland-Cohocton Central School. Mr. and Mrs. Hughes are both Teachers and the Parents of a Child with ASD. Their leadership and perseverance lead to this moment…Read Mr. Hughes wonderful account of their journey...

Isaac Newton, Yogi Berra, and the 14th Dalai Lama

Isaac Newton advanced our understanding of the physical world in ways unmatched by any other scientist. Though to us, much of what he said seems obvious today, in his time it was nothing short of revolutionary, (perhaps heretical) and his thoughts drew the jealous ire of his scientific contemporaries, with whom he maintained historically notorious feuds.

It is through his teachings that we have come to better understand the forces of Inertia and Momentum as fundamental concepts of science and Nature.

Inertia is a double edged sword. A body at rest remains at rest (inert) until a force is applied. Inertia is something that must be overcome if progress is to be made. Once in motion, however, a body will remain in motion in a direct line until acted upon by another force which can change its velocity as well as its direction.

Momentum is “mass in motion” and can be expressed mathematically by the equation: Momentum equals mass times velocity. Momentum, however, cannot exist until inertia is overcome, but once in motion, momentum can be compounded in two ways. Adding more mass increases momentum, as does increasing velocity. When you increase both mass and velocity, Momentum increases significantly.

I would like to apply Newton’s “notions of motion” to a brief history of the development of our MSE room, and in so doing, drag Yogi Berra and the Dalai Lama into the conversation alongside Newton.

Lawrence Peter Berra, known to the world simply as Yogi, is perhaps best known to Yankee fans as owning the most World Series Rings of any man to ever play the game (10), but to Yankee-haters, he is just a big-eared fellow with a strange way of expressing himself through malapropisms that have come to be known as Yogi-isms. His statements leave some walking away shaking their head, yet they are remarkably concise ways to view a situation with uncommon clarity. They are brief, direct, and allow the rest of us to see an idea from a different perspective.

Yogi-ism #1: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Our project began with a desire to re-think our educational approach to children with certain needs who are commonly diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. Having worked with a significant number of Asperger’s and Tourette children as well as boatloads of undiagnosed, quirky and ADD/ADHD students in our careers at this district, my wife and I had witnessed first-hand the anguish these students endure particularly as children and adolescents. Although frequently challenging to work with, we had drawn great joy in their unique abilities and talents and came to strongly believe we could do a better job of helping them work through their challenges and realize their awesome potential. At first, our vision had very little mass (just a few folks) and zero velocity. Inertia was a barrier and we were going nowhere. Early on, we thought if we could just help these children work through their frequent meltdown behaviors we could get them back to class more quickly and increase their chances of success. We had an idea that we would create a calming space for them and began to brainstorm ways to accomplish this at our school.

As time went by, our mass grew and we developed a task force of teachers, doctors, administrators, community members, and business people who shared our vision and brought diverse knowledge, abilities, and connections to the table. We now had mass, but still no velocity, and a resultant momentum of zero.

It soon became obvious that there would be no velocity nor momentum without financial support. Woefully limited state budgets for schools meant any real financial support would need to be sought out beyond the walls of our school. Our staff did a dress up/dress down day, our teachers association made a contribution, family members did likewise, and my wife and I canvassed local service organizations such as Rotary and Lions. Our ambitions were high and we started to get the word out. A conversation with Tim Costello at Gunlock prompted a meeting with Don Mead and we shared our vision with him. Don quickly ran with the idea and met with members from HNI charitable foundation and we were stunned when we were informed their corporation committed to providing $12,500, half our projected budget at the time. Inertia had now been overcome and momentum was building.

Yogi-ism #2: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you will wind up somewhere else.”
As we continued to seek financial support, Jackie dove in head-first investigating all the latest research and what had been done elsewhere. Her efforts led her to Linda Messbauer, who had already established multisensory rooms around the globe and in the states, and we came to realize Linda was certainly the greatest mind in the field, now only if she would take our phone call and answer a few questions…In uncharacteristically bold fashion, Jackie took the bull by the horns and reached out to Linda and within a few weeks, members of the task force were driving to NYC, where Linda opened her home to us and blew us away with her knowledge and expertise. Our body was in motion and when acted upon by the force Linda provided, our velocity increased and our direction changed as well. Our Momentum was magnified ten-fold.

Linda opened a whole new world of understanding to the task force. We no longer wanted to create a space for struggling students to work through meltdowns, we wanted to establish a special environment that would proactively help students avoid meltdowns altogether through relaxation and reflection in a safe environment. It was then that we realized our initial proposed budget of $25,000 would fall short of our vision and it was back to fundraising.

Yogi-ism #3: “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
We believe we have a unique vision that is strongly supported by a committed task force and a group of dedicated counselors chomping at the bit to apply this new approach in our school district. Although we expect a learning curve, our counselors are flexible and mindful professionals who will make the most of this room and adjust their approach through observation and revelation. They plan to personalize the use of the room to the needs of each child they service and truly understand the meaning of the phrase, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.” The momentum of this project is now in their capable hands and we are so very proud of the excitement and passion they possess.

Yogi-ism #4: “If the World were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
Will this room be a panacea for every struggling student? Certainly not, but we have a strong conviction that we will make significant strides in helping students help themselves as they grow. Though we don’t have all the answers and we don’t know exactly where this will take us, our vision takes into account the necessary flexibility to refine our approach and we are convinced there is tremendous power in this vision and our team.

Yogi-ism #5: “I want to thank you for making this day necessary.”
Teaching for nearly a quarter century each, my wife and I have seen many students who exhibit characteristics of Autistic Spectrum Disorder come through our classroom doors. In recent years, more and more are diagnosed as such, but I can assure you that many more have not been formally diagnosed, yet certainly reside on the spectrum. These students are often our most colorful and intelligent kids in the class. They can be extremely difficult to manage, yet their quirkiness is endearing. These are the sorts of kids who teach us more than we teach them, if we adults are smart enough to pay attention. For many of them, their potential is greater than the majority of their peers, but various barriers hamper their development. Years later, they remain as benchmarks of past teaching glory and will surely pop up as our most memorable students when we retire and look back on our careers. We also believe they often end up as the toughest kids in their class because their idiosyncrasies draw negative attention from their peers beginning at an early age and continuing into adulthood. They are the kind of kids you want to take under your wing and help them work through their struggles and we believe that the latest brain research indicates that many of their challenges can indeed be overcome in a proper setting.

Yogi-ism #5: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
It is hard to contain the excitement of our group. We deeply believe we now have a tremendous vehicle to make significant advances in the growth of our special students. We anticipate a few false starts as part of our learning curve, but strongly feel we will quickly find our stride and change the lives of young people.

Now after all of these Yogi-isms and lessons on Newtonian Physics, it’s time to look deeper into the character of these two gentlemen. Both men held the power to view our world differently, more clearly. Both men were also interesting personalities.

As for Isaac Newton,
He was born premature, not expected to live and it was said he could fit in a milk bottle as an infant.
During his boyhood years he occasionally didn’t return home at the end of the day and searches for him found him standing on a bridge staring at the water as it flowed past below.
He had an overbearing step-father who piled on many chores and once when sent to fetch the family horse, he came home dragging the reigns unaware that the horse had slipped free.
He loved to draw as a child and his room was decorated with many colors.
In grammar school he was described as idle and inattentive and was widely known as the worst kid in school.
He was an avid list-maker and one of his lists included a catalog of every sin he had committed up to the age 19, among them no less than three threats to burn down his family’s house with his mother and step-father inside.
He discovered that white light was actually a spectrum of different colors, and suffered a nervous breakdown when violently defending his ideas on light
Though not a strong student, Isaac attended Trinity College, only to be sent home during the plague years, to avoid the contagious black death.
It was during this time away from college that he became bored and developed his laws of motion.
Oh, and he also invented calculus in his spare time away from college, but didn’t publish or share the concepts for more than 10 years!

Imagine the world without Newton. We would never have made it to the moon and other great minds that built upon his work might not have been inspired to do so.

Now for Lawrence Peter Berra,
Yogi remains a character of the highest order. During his life he has accomplished a remarkable number of milestones. Despite an awkward body type he accomplished legendary things in the game of baseball:
He was an American League All-Star 15 times
He was the American League MVP three times
He won 10 World Series and remains the only catcher of a Perfect game in the Fall Classic
On one double-header day he drove in an astounding 23 runs between the two games
He was widely known to swing at just about any pitch regardless of where it was in the strike zone, yet seldom struck out, frustrating countless pitchers
In 1950, he struck out only 12 times in 597 at bats
Taking a break from the game to fight in WWII, Yogi was part of the D-Day Invasion on Omaha Beach
As a student, however, Yogi was less than stellar…
During his grade school years, an aunt asked him how he liked school and he replied “closed.”
His 7th grade teacher once made the comment, “Lawrence, Don’t you KNOW ANYTHING?” to which he replied, “Ma’am, I don’t even SUSPECT anything.”
Yogi quit school in the 8th grade

Some things both men have in common:
Both were poor students
Both had unusual abilities of concentration
Both had the capacity to see the world from a radically different perspective than the rest of us
Both were odd characters and non-conformists
And despite an ignorance of the world to the many manifestations of Autism in Newton’s age, experts agree he and Yogi Berra (and Mozart, Leonardo Di Vinci, Bill Gates, and an entire Who’s Who of significant humans) were certainly high functioning Autistic Individuals.

You are all here this evening because you believe in the potential of all students and you were willing to contribute in some way to the realization of that potential. I can assure you that your support is profoundly appreciated and that this project will contribute to greater success for our students with special needs.

It was the 14th Dalai Lama who perhaps best conveyed the True Meaning of Life…
He wrote…
“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.”

Your contributions and your attendance here tonight are strongly indicative that your journey is well underway. The Task Force thanks you for your contributions and your attendance this evening.