May 9, 2018
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
That’s why Ryan Heath decided join the Cub Scouts but not until his was in second grade and his friends had started a year earlier.
They were attending Rockvale Elementary School.
Heath doesn’t remember any of the specifics, just that he enjoyed going meetings and earning merit badges. He moved on to Webelos and eventually joined Boy Scout Troop 320. Scouting was just part of growing up and not a surprise that he would set his mind on becoming an Eagle Scout.
Founded more than 100 years ago, Eagle Scout is the highest achievement handed out by the Boy Scouts of America. It requires 24 merit badges and an Eagle Scout Service Project that needs to be completed prior to the scout turning 18-years-old.
For his service project — the conception and building of a mobile sensory cart for special education and autistic students — Heath returned to the school where his friends had once convinced the Blackman High School senior to join them at Cub Scout meetings — Rockvale Elementary.
It’s a scouting journey that has come full circle.
“I always had special (education) kids in my classroom,” recalled Heath, who learned sign language during elementary school so that he could communicate with the deaf education students that were integrated into traditional classes.
Trent Ducett remembers Heath was always involved in the school’s special Olympics fund-raiser because the school has a “big tradition” of supporting the event.
“We do a big fundraiser for the kids,” said Ducett, who recalled Heath coming to support Rockvale’s special education athletes at the annual event. “We have huge pep rallies, where the whole school comes and sends off the kids off.”
The entire special education program made an impact on Heath and his family.
His younger brother, Caleb, attended Rockvale and their twin sisters — Macy and Emma — are currently third-graders at the school. Ryan’s mother, Jennifer, who is a substitute teacher for Rutherford County Schools, has recently been subbing at Rockvale.
When Ryan’s original project idea fell through, his mother helped brainstorm ideas.
Together they came up with the idea for the sensory cart and immediately Ryan said he “thought about Mr. Trent.”
The original special education cart they found online had a triangular shape to it. After speaking with Ducett, who mentioned the need for storage compartments, Ryan “added the doors on the top, made it more boxed and then added the themes to the sides.”
Ducett said autism students and students with other sensory issues are able to use the mobile sensory cart for tactile issues and to work on fine motor skills. For student developing motor skills, the cart is functional – when a student flips a light switch and actual light turns on – and it also provides opportunities for repetition.
More importantly, there are numerous tactile options to engage and calm students with sensory issues and the deaf education department has integrated the mobile cart into its curriculum.
“It gives (students) so much, that is all they focus on,” said Dayna Nichols, principal at Rockvale Elementary School, “so whatever has them overloaded, that just goes away.”
Nichols added, “It is very valuable and we will maintain it, and it’ll be around for years and years. I’m just so impressed with every piece of it. … There are a lot of elements. I could not stop playing with it when I checked it out.”
Nichols said the preschool class were “like little ants all over it” when they were first introduced to the sensory cart.
The conception, research, design and construction of the project came together quickly.
“I had to have it done by the time I turned 18,” said Ryan, who celebrated his birthday April 17.
Through his own research and a series of conversations with Ducett, Ryan drew out the design and then spent his entire spring break seeking donations.
Lowe’s provided him with the wood, Home Depot provided him with $50 gift card to use on supplies. In all, he raised approximately $300 for the project and estimates as many 34 people helped him in various ways.
“I was overwhelmed with the response,” said Ryan, who solicited donations and help for his Eagle Scout project from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for an entire week.
“He’s done an amazing job,” Jennifer said of her eldest son. “The leadership that I have seen him develop is amazing.”
His mother, Jennifer, mentioned the project took a total of 400 man-hours to complete.
In addition to her efforts in assisting with shopping, Ryan’s father and grandfather did all the cutting of the wood for the cart.
Ducett, who also earned an Eagle Scout, provided invaluable feedback from the perspective of a special education teacher and as a former Boy Scout, who installed benches and a fire pit at a city park along the waterfront for his own project.
He fully understood and appreciated the sacrifice Ryan made and especially the pride that comes with completing the project.
Ducett described Ryan’s project as “remarkable.”
“I came in the next day just to see the kids,” Ryan said, “and it was amazing, just all the kids around this cart going in and out.”
In hindsight, there are a couple changes or modifications he is planning. For instance, he plans to replace a couple pinwheels, which did not hold up to the rigors of children, with a more-heavy duty fidget spinner.
“He has grown to be such an amazing young man,” said Justus, principal at Blackman High. “He challenges himself in school — member of the Blackman Collegiate Academy, great GPA, high level classes — and he challenges himself outside of school.”
His great accomplishment outside of the classroom is the process by which he will earn his Eagle Scout this summer.
Ryan has not received a specific day and time yet, but in either June or July he will present and defend his project and scouting experiences at a council meeting.
“He is such a kind young man as well,” Justus said. “He works with a club in school that supports and celebrates students and teachers, and he has been a great member of that team.”
Ryan’s younger brother, Caleb, will be a freshman at Blackman High next year. Their mother hopes that Ryan will continue to be involved with the Boy Scout troop so that he could mentor his brother.
He’s already proven to be a role model for his siblings and others.
In fact, Justus said Ryan always has a smile and greets everyone he meets.
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT