Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
February 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 5

Raising Nora

The day was lovely. The trek, educational. And a 6th grader reached heights she never dreamed of.

It was early April in Northeast Oregon. The balsamroot were just beginning to spread pale yellow patterns across the ridgetops of the Umatilla River drainage. With a team of teachers, I paused on one of those ridgetops, hiking what some 6th graders around here now call the “Seven-Mile Monster.”
The Monster was a loop hike our team had planned for our weeklong outdoor school. The young hikers climbed steeply uphill from the shrubby river valley, then meandered for five miles along ridgetops and through stands of 100-year-old Ponderosa pines. By late afternoon, they followed a path along a creek back to base camp. Along the way, we had set out sites for water and forest studies, archaeology, art, and poetry.

Facing a Fear

When the teachers and student teacher first described the route to the 6th graders—the beautiful setting, primitive facilities, exciting learning stations, and, finally, The Monster—they had one question: “What about Nora?”
Nora is their classmate. She has cerebral palsy, and moves through the school on a motorized scooter or, haltingly, with metal crutches. Her peers knew that Nora could never negotiate The Monster, and after much brainstorming, they could find no solution.
That weekend, Nora's student teacher and I took a trail ride in the Eagle Cap Wilderness area. As we rode beside great gray granite bluffs and glacial lakes, we found our answer. We were sitting on it. Nora could tackle The Monster on horseback.
When the student teacher took her idea to the students, they immediately shared her excitement. Nora's face, however, told a different story. She couldn't—and wouldn't—ride a horse.
We approached Nora to find out what was on her mind. We learned that she (and her parents) had three legitimate concerns. First, having spent much of her life on crutches, Nora might not be able to spread her legs wide enough to mount a horse; second, she might not have enough strength to stay on; third, she was terrified of heights.

Getting a Lift

The student teacher asked me for advice. We reviewed what we knew about motivation and encouragement, explored instruction strategies, scanned the literature for similar situations. Our best hope, we concluded, was to change Nora's attitude and behavior through successive approximation. In other words, to simulate horseback riding, then reward each incremental success until Nora was able to actually ride a horse (Kaplan 1991, Morris and Kratochwill 1983).
For our simulation, we decided to secure a saddle to a light wooden frame, then place the contraption beside Nora's desk. Her physical therapist began to work with her on upper thigh flexibility. The teacher and student teacher had explained the challenge to Nora's classmates, and they immediately began encouraging her to try.
A week passed, and the students and teachers helped Nora mount the makeshift horse. It was a qualified success. Nora could spread her legs wide enough, and she had plenty of arm strength from a lifetime on crutches. There was only one problem. Her feet hung eight inches off the floor. It was, in a sense, the first time she had been off the ground, and she was afraid of the height. She clung to her helpers.
By the second week, Nora had overcome this fear, and was mounting up twice a day, 10 minutes at a time. She was soon pretending to ride. To further prepare Nora, her classmates wanted the horse to move. After Nora was aboard, they picked it up, whereupon she promptly demanded they stop. By the third week, however, after continued encouragement and short lifts, Nora let her classmates carry her on horseback around the room. Elated, she soon “rode” to the library and to the principal's office.

Conquering Monsters

Outdoor school was a week away when I took my 22-year-old mare to Nora's school. We saddled the mare on the playground, and the student teacher mounted behind the saddle. Then, amid cheers and encouragement, her classmates lifted Nora into the saddle and led the horse around the grounds.
The day of the hike, the sun was shrouded behind a thin veil of clouds. Nora joined her peers in the trek. Not the entire seven miles, but she reached the ridgetop with her classmates, then met them along the creek at the end. A slight mountain breeze was blowing. It was a perfect day for conquering monsters.

Kaplan, J. S. (1991). Beyond Behavior Modification: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach to Behavior Management in the School. 2nd ed. Austin, Tex.: Pro-Ed.

Morris, R.J., and T.R. Kratochwill. (1983). Treating Children's Fears and Phobias: A Behavioral Approach. Elmsford, N.Y.: Pergamon Press.

Margo Mack has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
From our issue
Product cover image 196006.jpg
Students with Special Needs
Go To Publication