WASHINGTON — Non-stop noise and laughter permeated what was a relatively quiet afternoon last week at Five Points Washington.
All the commotion came from the final session of a weekly exercise class run by Monica Blunier and Saundi Pugh, pediatric physical therapists at OSF HealthCare Children's Hospital of Illinois.
Called "Work It Out," the twice yearly, six-week class is for children ages 4-13 who have motor, orthopedic and/or neurological needs.
The students, or athletes as they're called, work on their strength, flexibility, endurance, balance and motor functions in a fun, safe, comfortable environment that is a follow-up or adjunct to their therapy.
Peer interaction and development of language and social skills are added benefits.
"We keep the athletes active and we keep them moving," Blunier said. "This is a class just for them. Everything is adopted to their needs."
Most class activities — like walking on steps and a balance beam, jumping, arm circles and making baskets in a hoop — are held in an outpatient therapy room that OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center uses at Five Points.
The athletes ride scooter boards in the hallway outside the room.
Five-year-old Wren Leman of Washington, a preschooler at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in her hometown, can't get enough of the Work It Out class.
"It's fun. I love stretching and the 'freeze dance,'" she said. Is she tired after class?
"No," was her quick reply with a huge smile on her face.
Each athlete has a high school mentor who provides constant motivation and keeps the athlete on task. For the most part, the mentors are students from Washington Community High School or Metamora Township High School.
Washington senior Ella Boston was Wren's mentor this spring.
"Wren is the sweetest kid," Boston said. "I've loved working with her."
Luke Goforth, 12, of Metamora, a sixth-grader at Metamora Grade School, is a huge scooter board fan.
"I love it," he said before taking a couple of enthusiastic runs up and down the hallway.
Ryann Pugh, a Washington senior and Work It Out mentor, said she's learned from the class that even though the athletes have disabilities, they make the most of their abilities.
"There's a boy who can't walk, but he has such strong arms," she said.
Pugh is headed to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to study special education and music theater. She hopes to open a school someday that helps special needs students through music and dance.
Metamora senior Grace Simpson volunteered to be a mentor at Work It Out through her high school's Key Club. She plans to study environmental sciences at Monmouth College.
She said she's been impressed by the work done by Blunier and Saundi Pugh.
"I've learned from the Work It Out class that pediatric physical therapists work incredibly hard to make sure they're helping kids both physically and mentally," she said. "It's an underrated job that deserves a lot of recognition."
There were nine athletes in the class this spring. There have been as many as a dozen. Blunier said the class, in its third year, will return in the fall. Those interested should call 655-6961.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.