One day a week a special class is bused to a country location, where horses help children with autism.
The young students from room 35 come from areas throughout Cherokee and Crawford County. Every day they are bussed to Pittsburg, Kansas, to the only elementary classroom for children on the autism spectrum.
The class was started last year by Pamela Thompson through SEK Interlocal. It serves students who are nonverbal for the most part. These students are often easily overwhelmed in noisy places. Every Monday, they look forward to having class on a quiet country road in a calm barn.
Horses of Hope is a therapeutic riding center for people with special needs. They serve approximately 1,000 people annually. It was founded by Vallerie Sweeton and Shelly McColm, who both have backgrounds in horseback riding and special education. Thompson was introduced to the program when she started teaching special education at Riverton two years ago.
“It’s like a family and is a wonderful social opportunity,” McColm said. “Those who come here find themselves connected with the horses, the barn, the instructors.”
Last fall Thompson started Room 35 and set about finding funding for them to have a private therapeutic riding program at Horses of Hope. Her students made crafts and ornaments to sell, and regular education classrooms made gift baskets for auction. They also received grants from Donors Choose and the USD 250 Foundation. Perhaps the most surprising donation came from a 35 year old donor who is in a wheelchair and has personally benefitted from Horses of Hope therapeutic riding.