Putting Students in the Saddle
Mary Sharp’s background in equine therapy has taught her the value of letting special-needs students hold the reins.
When Mary Sharp was in her senior year of high school, she signed up for a public-service project before graduation. She volunteered at a riding center that provided horseback therapy to special-needs children. “I fell in love with the kids,” says Sharp. “I ended up staying five years and becoming an assistant therapeutic riding instructor.” The experience changed her. She decided to pursue a master’s degree in special education.
Today, with 18 years of teaching under her belt, as a first-grade teacher in Olathe, Kansas, and 24 years as a horse trainer, Sharp helps her students excel by combining her two passions: teaching and horse therapy.
In the classroom, Sharp integrates her experiences with horses when she can. “I have pictures of the horses in my classroom, and we talk about my experiences with them. It fosters a strong connection.”
The expectations of first grade usually challenge kids, leading to behavior and attention-span problems. Sharp works hard to gather the information needed to get those kids services in second grade.
Sharp understands that most kids don’t like sitting at a desk for seven hours, so she encourages movement during class. “As long as it is safe and allows the other children to learn,” says Sharp, “I think it’s necessary for kids to move around, bounce, or make noises.”
Team with Parents
At the start of the school year, Sharp makes sure to get parents on board. “I tell them how glad I am their child is in my class,” says Sharp. “Usually, the parents and child are coming off a difficult year in kindergarten, and they are waiting for the other shoe to drop. I make sure they know that their child will have a purpose and will belong.”
“I love the kids who can’t focus, I love the chair throwers, and the angry ones,” says Sharp. “I want those kids in my room.”