For today's generation of kids, video games have become the universal language of fun - and their teachers know it. That's why, at Ridgeview Middle School, parties with entertainment provided by Mr. Game Room have become a valued reward for hard work and good behavior.
For today's generation of kids, video games have become the universal language of fun - and their teachers know it. That's why, at Ridgeview Middle School, parties with entertainment provided by Mr. Game Room have become a valued reward for hard work and good behavior. Ridgeview's principal Natalie James first learned about the mobile video-game vendor during a Parade of Homes event about three years ago. Looking for an incentive that the 545 middle-school students at this Columbus City Schools building would respond to, she invited owner Michael Ross to bring his truck over. It was a hit, but from that first visit came an idea for some additional customization during future visits. About 30 of the Ridgeview students have multiple disabilities, including Down syndrome, deafness and autism. They mix well with the typical population at the school but, during the first Mr. Game Room visit, James said one of the teachers noticed that several of the special-needs students "didn't have as good a time, trying to keep up, so Mr. Ross came back and did a free session just for them." Ross, whose wife is a teacher, said he gets a lot of great insights about the students' needs from her. In preparation for spring break, Ross recently visited the school again and surprised the special-needs kids with an afternoon gaming session. James said she likes to let the students go for about 30 to 45 minutes per session. The reward parties, held each semester, also mix in a variety of other activities including an arts and crafts area, a dance deejayed by one of Ridgeview's teachers and a movie shown in the auditorium. During the three years he's operated the Mr. Game Room truck, Ross said he's learned that, while some special-needs kids do best with lower volume and a higher staff-to-student ratio while playing on the Xbox 360 and Play Station 3 gaming consoles, most are just as adept at gaming as any child with typical needs. "We chose these games today," Ross explained, pointing out the Mario Kart, Monster Truck and Just Dance games playing in the truck, "because they're simple games but challenging enough." The key to avoiding frustration and over-stimulation, said the group's teachers Amy Burt and Lori Huffman, is following facial expressions and body language. Most students, however, are very good at deciding for themselves when they've had enough. "You let them do it on their own time," Burt said, and paused for a quick round of hugs with students who were giving themselves a break from the action. "These are just the sweetest kids," Huffman said. "We say it all the time…." Burt nodded and jumped in, "We have the best job in the world."