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Project Jade: Aspen Ridge School receives communication board

Aspen Ridge School receives communication board

A Project Jade board will help students at Aspen Ridge School communicate with each other and staff. From left are Kallen Yohe, Kane Marietti, Eli Filpus and teacher Becca DeVerney. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

ISHPEMING — The inability to express a thought need not be part of a school playground experience.

Aspen Ridge School is a new recipient of a Project Jade outdoor communication board for its playground, which will allow those with limited verbal language to communicate their wants and needs to their peers or staff — while playing outside.

The icons were specifically chosen to represent the most common words a youngster might use while accessing the play equipment.

Becca DeVerney, who teaches early childhood special education at Aspen Ridge, is pleased about the new addition to the playground, which she called a “tactile” experience.

The colorful board’s symbols include “core words.”

“It’s the words that we would use most often when we’re talking,” DeVerney said.

For example, some core words are “feel,” “want” and “play.”

Aspen Ridge’s “fringe words” — also found on the board — are specific to the playground, such as “bench” and “tetherball.”

Other words are “inside,” “sunny” and a particularly important one, “bathroom.”

“We add words depending on what the kids want to talk about and what they’re doing,” DeVerney said.

That means a child can point to the board and say “I feel hungry.”

“It’s building their vocabulary,” she said. “Just because they don’t speak doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.”

DeVerney said a mother of a Marquette girl, named Jade, came up with the idea for such a board. According to a Project Jade Facebook post, the girl is on the autism spectrum.

Then Sarah Foster, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of the Upper Peninsula, decided her organization could donate its time and get involved in the project, making boards for schools in the community such as Sandy Knoll Elementary School in Marquette.

“They’re hoping to branch out to Munising and Ontonagon soon,” DeVerney said.

Project Jade’s Facebook page includes up-to-date information on the initiative, including an “install” at Lakenenland Sculpture Park in Harvey that includes the words “fishing pond” and “bog walk.”

By the way, the park does have a fishing pond and bog walk.

Noted in one post was the fact that before an install takes place, coordination has to happen between school staff and the installer for when to put in signs — but only after MISS DIG is called to prevent utility damage.

The school district has many private donors, individuals and businesses to thank for helping the Project Jade initiative, including speech language pathologist Jennifer Bleckiner, Signs Now for printing the board, 41 Lumber for donating the posts, Tom Hall Contracting for the installation, and the Home Builders Association of the Upper Peninsula for coordinating the entire process.

“I am so proud of our school family for supporting our Project Jade communication board,” NICE Community Schools Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine said in an email. “Seeing our students enjoy our playground to its fullest potential is amazing. I can’t thank our business partners, faculty and staff enough for this great addition to our facilities and for helping our kids.”

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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