Dartmouth farm will be used by autism nonprofit Flying Starlings
DARTMOUTH – When the traditional class structure failed their sons with autism, Amanda Deane and Judy Pasierb decided to create their own learning style. Now he will be moving to a farm in Dartmouth for extended play in the wild.
Longtime friends, Deane and Pasierb founded the Flying starlings and based their organization on their sons. They said they always went from specialist to specialist for help with their sons’ behavior and movements.
“Our whole week has been busy being told, ‘Your kid is deficient in this area and you need to improve,” Deane said. “We don’t want this to be a place where you have to improve, we want to just that they be loved and honored and whoever they are. “
How Flying Starlings started
Flying Starlings started out by bringing the unstructured play back into layers. The organization emphasizes hands-on play and exposure to home economics skills such as sewing, felting, and crafts. Just before the COVID-19 hit, the organization had just introduced the agricultural aspect of the program, teaching children how to plant, cultivate and where their food came from.
After leaving a local orchard in Westport, Deane was offered a farm with four acres of land, an indoor stable and barn for students to experience nature as a learning tool. Albert Santos, a local businessman and owner of the property at 1279 Reed Road, recently acquired the land from a friend and wanted to use it for non-profit organizations. When he heard of Deane’s vision, it was obvious that she would use the land to the best of her ability.
“We want this to be a place of peace,” Deane said. “They continue to learn skills, but at their own pace. We want them to learn their own independence, to be comfortable with who they are.”
What children will learn on the farm
On the farm, Flying Starlings will continue its programs until 4-H in September for homeschooled children. Art classes will continue on Sunday. By next spring, Deane said the farm will be in full swing with a small petting zoo, animals donated by local farmers and a fairytale sensory garden with columns, walls, fountains and a foam bed. The farm will be open to the public in the summer with signs teaching the public about the meaning of a sensory garden and how it works for children with autism. The large open field will serve as a small garden for children to learn how to grow their own food and sell it on a cart in front of the farm, working on communication skills.
As Executive Director, Deane has this vision for kids to experience something her son couldn’t do when he struggled the most.
“I have always felt that [when] my son would get discouraged, I would say, ‘Think of me if I had a bad habit that I’m trying to change,’ “Deane said.” It’s so hard; this poor little boy is trying to change seven different things every week. I wish he had just a place where there were other kids like him, free to relax and enjoy nature. “
Classes will have an unstructured feel, where the general lesson will be an orientation, but children can interpret it as they feel most comfortable.
“This program is very unique,” Pasierb said. “I don’t think there is a program like this in the Southeast or the state of Massachusetts. Amanda has a unique vision to work with people with disabilities. To have a permanent home here in Dartmouth is wonderful.”
While the goal is to get children outside and interact with nature as much as possible, indoor activities such as sewing and knitting will be available. With the good weather, they plan to move the tables outside so that the children can be themselves.
“If they need to arm the beat or the ‘whoop’ or whatever, who you are is amazing and we appreciate you,” Deane said, referring to some of the self-pacing behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorders.
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At the beginning, the planned number will be small, between 20 and 25 children to keep it condensed. Pasierb said they plan to open the program to 75 children eventually, so they can experience learning in a whole different environment.
“We don’t want to be in a stuffy building,” Pasierb said. “We want to be on the outside, focusing on unstructured play. Hands-on play… generations have lost that.”
To help spread the word, Santos hosted his annual farm clam boil for local friends and businessmen. Andy Medeiros of Marvin Grain and Pet Supply in South Dartmouth donated clams and antlers for the petting zoo.
Although Santos owns the property, along with other businesses in New Bedford, he was hopeful that bringing the community to the boil would help introduce community partners to Flying Starlings to realize Deane’s vision.
Founded in 2018, Flying Starlings is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to educate a future generation by drawing on the skills and knowledge of the past”. Named after the starling whose movement is felt and responded to by surrounding birds, the founders believe that every student should have the freedom to be who they are. During a whisper, when a starling moves, seven more react to that movement, each in their own way, and with small changes in movements, the large chain of reactions becomes fluid movement. When students have the freedom to act and move however they want, they collaboratively create something so gracious and beautiful, the founders.
Standard-Times Editor Kerri Tallman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @ktallman_SCT for links to recent articles.
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