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CLC students find magical ways to reach students with special needs

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Dec 20, 2019

CLC students find magical ways to reach students with special needs Can using simple magic tricks serve as a form of therapy to help students with special needs? College of Lake County thinks so. A dozen education students recently worked with the Special Education District of Lake County (SEDOL) to explore a mentoring-through-magic program for their adult students.

They determined special needs students who perform Photo of a special needs student performing a card tricksimple tricks using common objects ranging from rubber bands to playing cards helps them develop self-confidence, plus verbal, motor and problem-solving skills, according to Matt Rasmussen, Ph.D., a CLC psychology professor who spearheaded the idea at the college.

“The experience helps CLC students learn skills in mentoring and teaching, as well as empathy and patience,” said Rasmussen. “And all agree that magic is a fun way to learn.”

Photo: From left: Stephanie, a student from the Special Education District of Lake County, performs a simple card trick for CLC education major Marissa Zaehringer.

Following a trial run last spring, the program launched this fall with several sessions at the Grayslake Campus. On a recent Wednesday morning, about 20 SEDOL students gathered in a classroom. After Rasmussen greeted the group, he presented a quick refresher on how to do a simple card trick and had the students break into groups of two or three, each group mentored by a CLC student.

Stephanie, a SEDOL student, asked CLC education student Marissa Zaehringer to pick a card, look at it and remember the number and suit. Stephanie then received the card face-down from Zaehringer and gently shuffled it in the deck. Using the shuffling motion as a visual aid, Stephanie spontaneously told a short, fictitious tale of a teacher trying to find a student’s lost assignment in a stack of papers. She then pulled a card out of the deck and showed it back to Zaehringer. Presto! It was the card Zaehringer had picked. Both acknowledged the successful magic trick with a smile.

Another SEDOL student, Carli, said she had fun learning the magic tricks and the experience helped build her communication skills and learn the CLC campus environment. “The professors and students have been helpful, and they’ve made me feel comfortable at the college,” said Carli, a high school graduate who plans to enroll part-time at CLC in the Spring 2020 Semester.

CLC’s use of magic as a therapeutic tool began at the suggestion of Kevin Spencer, an award-winning magician, educator and consultant who last December performed a magic show for people of all abilities at CLC’s Grayslake Campus. Today, the concepts of “magic therapy” are being used in more than 2,000 hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and schools in over 30 countries, according to Spencer. Additionally, the magician’s approach, known as the Healing of Magic, has been featured in several academic journals, including the “Journal of the American Medical Association.”

“Kevin (Spencer) connected me with SEDOL because they were interested in using magic to have the students open up,” Rasmussen said. After getting the thumbs-up from SEDOL officials and CLC deans, Rasmussen collaborated with Michelle Proctor, Ph.D., a CLC education professor.

“Pairing with Michelle has been great because she brings her educational expertise,” said Rasmussen. “She helps CLC students learn how to connect with those who may need extra help.”

“Mentoring is an excellent way to apply teaching principles while giving CLC education majors important classroom experience in their freshman or sophomore years—as opposed to many four-year schools who often don’t provide classroom experience until a student’s senior year,” Proctor said. “The practical experience helps solidify their commitment to their major, and they see that teaching is more than just pushing information into another person’s mind. It’s connecting with another human being, and the mentoring-through-magic program is a great way to build that connection.”

“When teaching magic to the students, I encourage them to use a story related to a challenge in their life, with a metaphor to keep trying and not give up,” said Monica Breen, special education major who also works as a paraprofessional for SEDOL and plans to transfer to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. “I’ve seen the students develop communication skills, build trust in the teacher and feel welcome at the college. It’s a great program.”

Joan Parker, a SEDOL teacher, also has witnessed the success of the mentoring-through-magic program. “The students who participated in the spring could not wait to return to the program this fall,” she said. “This partnership with CLC has given our students a same-aged peer opportunity in a college setting to gain confidence, increase social and communication skills plus build perseverance and a sense of accomplishment. The program has given students a forum to socialize, learn, share and increase essential adult life skills for greater independence.”

For more information about CLC’s special education degree program, visit; about CLC’s psychology program, visit

About College of Lake County:

College of Lake County is an innovative community college in Lake County, Ill. that transforms lives with its variety of accessible, quality education options. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, College of Lake County provides affordable options in a state-of-the-art setting close to home. A large student network, with small class sizes, provides advantages to our students on a career-related program or a path toward a transfer degree. We’re proud to serve the diverse needs of our community and student body. Connect to your future today at College of Lake County.