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Reaching for the Reins united two groups

May 15, 2008 By STAFF Niles Daily Star

NILES - Reaching for the Reins has united and changed the lives of two unlikely groups of students in the community of Southwestern Michigan. Reaching for the Reins was started by a Cedar Lane math teacher, Tara Carlsen. It was her vision to create a program for her students that would help them develop confidence in themselves while learning about the impact they are able to have on their communities. Throughout the fall and winter of the 2007-2008 school year, a group of 20 students went to the Therapeutic Equestrian Center (TEC) in Buchanan to volunteer their time, learn how to take care of horses, and how to work with and teach special needs students. In order to stay in the program students had to progressively improve their attendance and keep from getting suspended at school. By spring there were 12 students remaining in the program who had been prepared for the next phase. Danielle Greulich, the Equine Manager from TEC, worked closely with the students teaching them the skills they would need to run a six-week riding camp for a group of five students from the Lighthouse Education Center in St Joseph. On March 24 the two groups of students met each other for the first time. Liz Olsen, a teacher from the Lighthouse Education Center, said that she had never seen some of her students interact as much and smile as much as they did on that day. The program has had a huge impact on Cedar Lane students as well. Each week the students write in journals about their experience at the farm. According to Tara Carlsen, "they talk about making a difference in their riding, students lives, appreciation for the opportunity that has been given to them, and an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment." The last day for the 2007-2008 Reaching for the Reins program was Wednesday. The students from Lighthouse have offered to provide a picnic in thanks for what the Cedar Lane students have done for them. It will be a wonderful end to a program that has joined two groups of students in changing each other's lives.