Giving Students Interactive Experiences Far Beyond the Virtual Classroom

A Focus on Amy Bolliger, M.S. CCC-SLP, Unit Supervisor/Speech Therapist

Autumn always has a refreshing energy to it: the summer heat fades, the leaves change, and the students return back to school. The Phoenix Center has set itself apart by wielding technology to give students interactive experiences by “visiting” far away places otherwise inaccessible due to the restrictions of the pandemic – all thanks to a very creative and determined staff member.

Amy Bolliger, M.S. CCC-SLP and Unit Supervisor/Speech Therapist, put it this way, ‘’It is such a relief to be back in-person, being able to provide hands-on learning and therapeutic care, in real-time, right there for our students again, where we can see for ourselves their movement, growth, learning, and development. Simultaneously, technology has given The Phoenix Center Students the special opportunity to enjoy more than just the classroom online: we’ve seen zoos, animal sanctuaries, and plenty of other locations that have widened our students’ perspectives and given them engaging field trips without having to leave the school during this socially-distant time.”

Amy has been an employee at The Phoenix Center for the past 22 years. Beyond her professional passion for special education, she has a passion for helping animals. Amy frequents animal sanctuaries with her family in her free time. Amy approached the TPC Administration with the idea of doing virtual field trips– specifically to animal sanctuaries–where she was met with an astounding yes. “Initially, classrooms were a bit hesitant because it was such a new adventure,” she noted. “We started out with three classrooms and by the time word got out about this new venture, every classroom wanted to attend.”  Amy turned this venture into an annual professional development goal.

‘’It was especially exciting to “take” our students on not one but two international journeys to Costa Rica and Australia!”

Amy Bolliger, M.S. CCC-SLP and Unit Supervisor/Speech Therapist

TPC virtual field trips focused on animal sanctuaries around the country because of Amy’s hard work and outreach. She realized in this process that employees at these various sanctuaries, farms, and other animal-focused organizations were also missing human and animal interactions. The animal caretakers also loved seeing our students on the screen, watching them smile, interact, and ask smart questions.

‘’We did other virtual field trips, too,” Amy said.”Some of these included Catskill Animal Sanctuary, The Cape May Zoo and Frederick Farm Goat Sanctuary.” 

The trips didn’t just stop in the United States. “Costa Rica was our first international field trip.  Costa Rica has toucan and sloth sanctuaries, and we learned about deforestation, and the care of orphaned or injured sloths. . Their educational process in the sanctuary teaches them different life skills, such as tree climbing and foraging, before they are sent back out into the wild with all of their needed skills,” Amy shared.

At TPC, teachers, who had students exhibiting behavioral challenges and students who are non-verbal, saw students coming up to SMARTBoard presentations of the sanctuaries and tried to engage with the animals as well. Students would stop Amy B. in the hallway to ask if they would be going to have another field trip soon. Staff were stopping Amy in the halls to thank her personally for setting up the trip. It was something that was really pulling the staff together again while the pandemic tried to make us feel otherwise.

“I am so fortunate to be able to work in a place where I can share my passion for animals and show how animals thrive in tribes with a focus on the importance of families.  That is The Phoenix Center way, to share our passions, to let parents and families know each day that we are all a part of this tribe and how important each and every one of us in making a difference.’’

Amy Bolliger, M.S. CCC-SLP and Unit Supervisor/Speech Therapist

“During my time at The Phoenix Center, I have learned so much from the students and the families. I have been so very fortunate to work alongside the most talented, knowledgeable, and stellar staff who have taught me everything I know today.  The support of my “TPC tribe” helped me gain the confidence to do something I have always wanted to do – In addition to my job at TPC –  become an adjunct professor at Montclair State University, teaching Evaluation and Treatment of Autism for future Speech and Language Pathologists. I am thrilled to be able to impart my knowledge to up and coming educators of our most precious children.’’

Thank you for being part of the TPC family and staff, Amy!