When it was time for Mary Ashby's grandson, Matthew Rapier, to go to preschool, his parents were told that he was far behind the other children, especially in language. After various tests, Matthew was eventually admitted to a school specializing in educating students with learning differences. Through the new school’s multi-sensory approach to learning, Matthew blossomed. He was soon caught up and even ahead of his grade level in some subjects.
“My mom came down and saw everything that the school was doing, how patient they were and how the kids learn,” said Melanie, Mary Ashby’s daughter. “After she saw that, she wanted other teachers to have the tools and other students to have the teachers.”
Mary Ashby sought out faculty members in Mount Mercy’s Education Department to see how she could help them train their teachers in multi-sensory learning.
“She wanted to see if there was something we could do to provide training to our teachers who are going into special education, especially to work with students in a multi-sensory way,” says Dr. Ellen O’Keefe, associate professor and chair of the Education Department. “So we came up with a way to infuse into our curriculum, for free through her endowment, training in multi-sensory areas.”
Few colleges or universities offer this kind of training in the classroom. Typically, teachers become trained in this method by attending an expensive training course once they are employed post-graduation. Mount Mercy teachers leave school already having this training.
The multi-sensory approach pushes teachers to be creative with the tools and techniques they use to help students grasp new concepts and skills. Teachers use shaving cream, sandpaper and brushes. They use rice, felt and Play-Doh. And thanks to Mary Ashby's generosity, Mount Mercy students are at the fore-front of learning and employing these educational methods.
Mary Ashby initiated the Matthew Rapier Creative Learning Endowment with a gift of $50,000 to Mount Mercy in 2004.
Funds generated from this endowment help train education students like Amanda Scurry, pictured above, to use creative learning approaches for children with special educational needs.