first-grader Blake Roedel is a person with a form of autism that makes it difficult for him to communicate verbally with other people.
Blake's mother, Amanda, remembers pulling into the parking lot one day last year and seeing her son on the playground struggling to interact with his classmates. Blake was carrying the talker device that helps him communicate, but he was having difficulty making himself understood.
"Children were wanting to come up and interact with him, and he wouldn't really respond to them because he didn't know how," Roedel said. "I got to thinking about what we can do to help him help others understand."
She came up with the idea to install a playground communication sign at Kellison. The sign would include images paired with words that convey emotions, requests and suggested activities, such as "happy," "your turn" and "slide."
This school year, after working with district and school staff, Roedel realized her dream.
"The day I saw the sign, I cried. Seeing this sign has been the most amazing thing," she said. "I want Blake to feel the love and support that he deserves, just like I want every other child to feel that. The second Blake saw the sign, he instantly knew what it was."
When Blake wants to interact with his classmates, he can simply walk them over to the sign and point at what he is trying to convey. Roedel said she hopes the sign will be beneficial for all students.
"This is an amazing thing that will help other children to better know and understand Blake. He really does want their love, support and understanding," Roedel said. "And it's for all children in the sense that a child may fall and get upset or cry, and the words just can't come out. This is a way for other children to point to certain things that they may be feeling but don't have the emotion or words to get out at that time. Everyone deserves to have a voice."
Roedel first took her request to Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles, who helped connect her with Executive Director of Student Services
Dr. Terry Harris. From there, Harris and the Student Services staff worked with the staff at Kellison to install the sign on the playground.
Roedel said Blake's teachers, Lisa Finder and Natalie McKelly, also provided instrumental support along the way.
"Kellison is excited to have this playground communication board available for our students who have difficulty communicating while playing on the playground," said Kellison Principal Dr. Kimberly Dickens. "We hope this will help our students feel more comfortable, safe and secure during their time playing outside."
The sign includes 44 different options from which children can choose. Now, Blake has another way to make himself heard.
"That's what I love about Rockwood and Kellison. You can come to them with anything, and they have open arms and are willing to listen," Roedel said. "That's so amazing to have as a parent, knowing your kid is going to be taken care of."