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Squawk Therapy: Helping Students with a Cockatoo

Here’s a news story from:http://www.chroniclet.com/2008/09/22/squawk-therapy-helping-students-with-a-cockatoo_122/

Squawk therapy: Helping students with a cockatoo

The Chronicle-Telegram Staff

ELYRIA — Move over therapy dogs, there’s a winged one in town.

Max, a 1½-year-old medium sulfur crested cockatoo, makes monthly visits to Ely Elementary School in Elyria along with his owner, Bre Crum, an intervention specialist for Elyria Schools.

Crum, 33, works with 19 sixth-grade students who are learning disabled, cognitively delayed, medically fragile or have ADHD. She uses Max’s visits as a reward for her students, who earn tickets to see their fine-feathered friend.

“I thought it would be neat to expose the kids to a big bird. Some of them will never get an opportunity to interact with a large bird on a personal level,” Crum said. “It works as an incentive for them.”

Besides the motivating reward system Crum has in place, she said there was an unexpected, yet positive, twist to Max’s visits.

The students learned self-control techniques, something they can take with them and use throughout their lives.

“You can’t have the wiggles if you want to see Max, as you cannot approach a bird if you are not calm and collected,” Crum said. “So I worked with them on calming strategies. To get close to him or even to hold him, they had to learn how to relax. Soon the students were bringing themselves down, which was awesome to witness.”

The pet lover got the idea from seeing a golden retriever, also named Max, reading with children at the Avon Lake Public Library. Crum has six dogs, but confesses that none of them would behave well enough to come for a school visit, let alone become certified.

Crum also has two other birds, four cats, two rabbits, a hamster and pond frogs.

Max’s school visits are no dog and pony show. Crum carries him around with her (he’s clipped, so he can’t fly away), and lets the children interact with him throughout the day. She uses his visits to teach mini lessons on animal care and Australia, his natural habitat.

After the lesson, Max and Crum “conference” with individual students, and then Max relaxes on the back of a chair while the students continue their work. When Max is done working, he likes to nap. He puffs up his feathers, pulls up his right foot and falls asleep.

But no matter how tired he may be, he’s always wide awake when students read to him. One of Crum’s students particularly enjoys reading to Max, as he’s determined to teach the bird to read. But it’s the boy who is benefiting, as he’s reading more, and Max doesn’t care if he makes a mistake, Crum said.

Ely Elementary School Principal Jack Dibee has embraced the idea of Max.

“I have been amazed at how the students have responded,” Dibee said via e-mail. “Mrs. Crum really likes to use as many creative ways as she can to motivate students and help them learn. This has been a great opportunity for the kids. It’s great to see Mrs. Crum’s enthusiasm to try different ways to help them learn.”

While Max has no official certification as a therapy bird, he hasn’t ruffled any feathers at Ely Elementary. He did scare a teacher once when he was hanging out on a copy machine, and — of course — there’s the occasional “accident,” but the kids think that is “really cool,” according to Crum.

Max may be the teacher’s pet at school, but he does have a mischievous side at home. He plays in his water, hisses at the dogs, picks at their toenails and even teases them by saying, “C’mon go potty.” Most cockatoos aren’t completely vocal until age 5, when they should be up to saying about 500 words.

Crum, an Eaton Township resident who herself has ADHD, became interested in working with special needs children while doing a service project while a student at Elyria Catholic High School. She went on to receive her bachelor’s in education from Bowling Green State University and licensure from Cleveland State University, and she is currently pursuing a master’s at Ashland University.

“I know having something like a Max would have helped me when I was in school,” Crum said. “My hope was to be able to reach some of the children through a different way.”

At home, Crum notices that being around all her pets is very therapeutic. If her daughter, who also has ADHD, is worked up, Crum gives her some quiet time with one of the cats, and the stroking “brings her right back down.”

Crum estimates that Max will live to be about 80, so she sees a future in bird therapy when she retires. Until then?

“Max will continue to be an incentive on (the students’) crusade to learning,” she said.

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  1. January 9, 2009 at 3:43 am

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