GLIDING LIGHT

One skate-clad foot moves up off the ice as the 18-year-old encourages her student to mimic a flamingo.

Fourteen-year-old Melissa Milvert copies her teacher, gliding on the ice with a grin on her face.

Molly Fry works with Melissa, teaching her other basics and making the lesson more engaging by having her mimic other animals, including other birds and a tiger — Shere Khan from Disney’s “Jungle Book,” if you want to be specific.

That one-on-one interaction is key for Melissa, who has Down syndrome and takes the skating class in addition to her behavioral and physical therapy, said her mother, Helen Milvert.

Melissa is one of two students that Fry and other instructors work with during a weekly therapeutic skating class at Hamilton Center Ice Arena.

The class started last fall as Fry’s senior project and is into its third eight-week session. The Columbus East High School senior, whose mother is the ice rink’s manager, has been skating since before she started school and said after helping with group classes, she really wanted to teach a class of her own.

In the therapeutic skating class she helped create, Fry and other instructors walk through the basic skills, just like in all the other 30-minute classes the ice rink offers for those wanting to learn how to skate, she said.

The real difference is the one-on-one interaction and the ability to move at the student’s pace and cut out moves and skills that make them uncomfortable, Fry said.

That also creates a strong bond between the instructor and student, she said.

Just like Fry enjoys teaching, Melissa loves going to the class and getting to skate, her mother said.

Melissa started skating two years ago as part of another senior project, Milvert said. In that one, she participated in a “Wizard of Oz”-themed ice show as a munchkin, she said.

Melissa’s behavioral therapist had seen the classes on Facebook and told the family about them, Milvert said.

They have helped develop the girl’s motor, communication and social skills, offering the “whole package,” she said.

“I think skating offers a lot of benefits in general,” Fry said. “Even to me.”

Melissa does other activities — such as music therapy, skiing and the special-needs swim program at Donner Aquatic Center — that work extra muscles and skills not covered in physical therapy, Milvert said.

Building inclusiveness

Faith Thomas, who is serving as Fry’s mentor on the senior project, said the class helps young adults with disabilities engage, both with others and in their community.

It also contributes to a community focus on inclusiveness, she said.

Thomas works as a project coordinator specializing in the transition for high school to adulthood for the Center on Community Living and Careers, part of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, a research center at Indiana University.

Thomas connected with Fry for the project because her daughter also skates at Hamilton Center and because she has a passion for making sure there is inclusion for people with disabilities.

“Any opportunity to support them getting out in the community and participating in activities is something I want to support,” Thomas said. “Giving everyone an equal opportunity is very important.”

A student with disabilities benefits through inclusion — being able to be with peers, make friends and just be a kid, Thomas said.

The therapeutic skating class gives the students an opportunity to learn something they can do for the rest of their life, she said.

But inclusion often benefits every person, not just those with a disability, she said. It presents a great learning ability for the coaches, too, Thomas said.

She did some training on best practices, open discussion and political correctness with Fry and others helping as instructors as a way to dispel myths about children and young adults with disabilities, she said.

Overall, the class is exciting, especially because it’s on the books at Hamilton Center as an official Parks and Recreation class, not just a one-time senior project, Thomas said.

Hamilton Center plans to keep the class going, manager Carleen Fry said.

Milvert said she would like to see the class get enough students to have their own class out on the main rink.

For now, however, Molly Fry “would just like people to know that it’s here,” she said.

How to sign up

To sign up for the weekly therapeutic skating class at Hamilton Center Ice Arena, held Wednesdays from 4:30 to 5 p.m., call the arena at 812-376-2686.

Available resources

The Arc of Bartholomew County: The Arc of Bartholomew County was founded in 1955 by parents of children with disabilities looking for more resources and services for their children. This grassroots organization became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 1956 and became affiliated with The Arc of the United States and The Arc of Indiana soon after. Throughout the 50-plus years of the organization, The Arc has expanded its program to include all individuals with disabilities in Bartholomew County.

The Arc of Bartholomew County provides advocacy and resources to individuals with disabilities and their families in Bartholomew County. The Arc also advocates on the behalf of individuals with disabilities at the local, state and national level with elected officials to ensure that quality services and considerations are given to its population.

Call 812-372-0610 or email thearcofbc@yahoo.com. Office located at 2060 Doctors Park Drive in Columbus. More information available at thearcbc.org

Autism Support Group: The Autism Support Group is held at The Arc Center for Excellence in Columbus. It is open to families and educators of children with autism. For more information, contact Nancy Conner at connern@bcsc.k12.in.us.

Columbus Area Down Syndrome Support Group:

The Columbus Area Down Syndrome Support Group meets the second Thursday of the month at the First Christian Church in Columbus. Meetings include social time as well as learning and support opportunities for families of children with Down Syndrome. Childcare is available.

Contact via mail at P.O. Box 1732, Columbus, IN 47201 or by calling 812-375-9594. More information available at cadssg.org

Developmental Services Inc.:

Developmental Services Inc. is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that provides services for adults and children with mental, physical and emotional disabilities.

DSI was established in 1975 and provides early intervention for infants and toddlers, residential living options, job training, placement and follow-along, respite care, family support, individualized community based services and many other services.

Contact DSI locally by calling 812-376-9404 or 800-745-7686. For more information, go to dsiservices.org.