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Teri Fink | Magnet wall draws Wenatchee High students together

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Provided photo Special education teacher Kelly Sims watches her students use the magnet wall built by Wenatchee High School schoolmates. “They love any kind of tactile, sensory activities,” she said.

At the end of each day at Wenatchee High School, a small group of special education students wait at the back door for their bus. They arrive early to avoid the crowded hallways.

In a classroom near that back door, pre-engineering students in Doug Merrill’s AutoCad class brainstorm a project in which their design skills will result in a real-world product. Merrill recalled conference session he had attended that focused on industrial technology students helping serve special education students. He also remembered something he had seen years before on a family trip. A magnet wall.

“I got the idea from a children’s museum in Baltimore,” he says. “It’s like a puzzle that lets you set up a big, long maze,” he said. “It’s new every day.”

The portable wall, made of framed-in sheet metal, is designed to hold magnetized objects that can be arranged into a puzzle, a pinball machine or a roller coaster. Tennis balls are dropped into any of a number of starting points to roll down through the separate pieces of the maze.

AutoCad students Richie Stickle, Connor Hasse, Grant Carroll, Sophie Castillo, Sam Yunker, Liv Kenck and Kyle Bowman teamed up to build the wall.

When the day arrived to introduce the wall to students in Kelly Sims’ special education class, Merrill gave his students a pep talk. “If you’re excited, they’ll be excited,” he said.

The kids rolled the wall out into the hallway where Sims’ students waited. Richie Stickle gave a brief explanation, then dropped the first tennis ball into the maze. The special education kids were hesitant at first, but with help and encouragement, quickly got the hang of placing tennis balls into the pipes to see how far it would roll through the maze.

“They love any kind of tactile, sensory activities,” said Sims. “The wall is nice because they can switch it up; they can change heights and complexity. All levels can do it.”

The magnet wall can be seen at the back door of the high school most afternoons near 3 p.m., with a small group of students absorbed in making new designs and trying them out.

“Yes, it’s fun to build something,” said Merrill. “But at the same time my students were able to connect students they normally wouldn’t have in class, and to do something for them that they might not be able to do for themselves.”

Teri Fink is the communications officer for the Wenatchee School District.