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New Chatterton addition ‘a step above’ for students in Merrick

Administrators unveil new multipurpose space

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Members of the Chatterton Elementary School community joined district administrators and Board of Education trustees on Oct. 6 for an inside look at the building’s first addition in decades.

The 5,800-square-foot addition, which voters approved in a December 2016 bond referendum, houses a multipurpose room and classrooms for academic intervention services, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and reading and math programs. Construction of the addition began in 2019.

Last Tuesday, school officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the $5.2 million addition in time for the 2020-21 academic year. “This building will be around for a long time, and many children, families and staff will benefit from this new space,” said Dr. Nancy Kaplan, the Board of Education president. 

Janet Balkunas, a district physical therapist, said Chatterton did not previously have adequate space for therapy sessions, and at times, faculty had to give up the space when sessions were held in places like the auditorium and another activity took place there. She also said there wasn’t enough room for therapy sessions in certain areas of the building. Now, however, her students have a designated space that is large enough for the sessions, she noted.

Balkunas shares a classroom with Mary Murphy Brown, a district occupational therapist. The fully furnished space includes brand-new equipment, including a jungle gym, a platform swing and gym mats.

“In physical therapy, we work on utilizing different muscles to improve strength, so they can use the jungle gym to . . . gain confidence [climbing], and we use the swing a lot in weight-bearing postures to gain strength in their arms, shoulder girdles and neck muscles,” Balkunas explained. “Every kid has an individual education plan, so it’s just wonderful to have this private room to . . . focus on the goals [of] each specific child.”

Brown said children who need occupational therapy usually have trouble with handwriting, fine or visual motor skills and sensory modulation, which is the ability to pay attention to and process sensory information. Because such students are unable to give their full attention, they may seem as though they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, when, in fact, they do not. But having a larger, more functional space to work in, she said, has helped her students’ progress.

“Some of our return students’ faces [lit] up when we came down here,” Balkunas added. The district saw “how important it is for these students who may have some delays to reach their goals.”

And now there’s a “beautiful room to do it in,” Brown continued.

The addition’s multipurpose room serves as a lunchroom to aid in social distancing and as a mask break area. It will also be used for assemblies, special events, PTA functions and some phys. ed. activities in the future.

“We’d like to thank central administration and the Board of Education, who took this vision to fruition,” Chatterton Principal Dana Bermas said. “We’ve gained a tremendous new space at our school . . . which will be so beneficial to our children, our staff and our community for years to come.”