Five days a week, B-A students from Mrs. Carson's life skills classroom work with Phys. Ed. teachers and B-A fellow B-A students in the Adapted PE program. (Sidney Patterson)
Five days a week, B-A students from Mrs. Carson's life skills classroom work with Phys. Ed. teachers and B-A fellow B-A students in the Adapted PE program.

Sidney Patterson

‘Everyone can enjoy physical activity’

All students thrive in B-A's Adapted PE classes

January 10, 2017

There was a time when students with special needs were no more than the dispossessed, segregated in the educational setting, far and away from other students.  Go back twenty years and you could find students with autism often isolated in special education classrooms. If they were mainstreamed into the general student population at all they were simply labeled as quiet or weird.

“They never interacted with other gen-ed students. There was no inclusion,” said special education teacher Summer Carson.

Things have changed over the years as our understanding of special needs has evolved along with federal law.

Studies show 1 in 68 children have Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) calls for an education in the least restrictive environment for those enrolled in public education, which is where the Adapted Phys. Ed. program at Bellwood-Antis comes into play.

Every day during fourth period, students from Mrs. Carson’s life skills class, many of whom have been diagnosed with autism, participate in an adapted gym class with the help of B-A’s physical education instructors, student-aides, and even some of the student body. The program is a model of the inclusion special education programs strive for.

“Middle school and high school students who attend the life skills classroom with Mrs. Carson (participate). Every few weeks we have other high school students come and volunteer,” said high school Health and Phys. Ed teacher Mrs. Lori Nyman. “The students ‘buddy up’ with the life skill students. We play games and just have fun.”

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Building physical skills

Although fun, the Adapted PE class incorporates skill-building like that of general gym classes.

“We try to focus on activities that they will enjoy, and to practice the skills we are currently teaching,” said middle school Phys. Ed. instructor Mr. Brent Hughes. “The students get the opportunity to learn outside of the typical classroom setting and to work on some of the same skills that their grade-level peers are doing. Even though they may have different levels of ability from the mainstream students, they are still middle and high school students and need to be treated as such.”

Mr. Nick Lovrich, the Health and Physical Education Department chairperson, said the program has evolved over the years.

It is very rewarding for a student to finally master a task that you have worked on with him or her.”

— Mrs. Kennedy

“Two years ago when we implemented the life skills classroom in the high school, (high school principal) Mr. Schrier approached us about teaching the Adapted PE class. During that first year the class was just two days a week like all of our other PE class,” Mr. Lovrich explained. “During this past summer the administration thought that having it five days a week would benefit the students more, so we changed it to every day of the week.

“We also found that having two teachers there made for a better experience than just one, so we volunteered to do our best to have two teachers instructing the class almost every day. We felt that we wanted to make sure these students had the best possible experience when they came to gym, just like we do in all of our other classes.”

A special feature of the Adapted PE program is the student-aides that get to help.

“I think the thing that makes it different than other classes is that there are other adults there to help out. Each one of the students has an aide that comes to class with them and gives them support in the things we are doing,” said Mr. Lovrich.

As with many classes in the general curriculum, the instructors seem to get as much out of the experience as the students.

“It is very rewarding for a student to finally master a task that you have worked on with him or her,” said student-aide Mrs. Scarlett Kennedy.

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Building life skills

Along with motor skills practice, the students have lessons geared towards real life application.

“At least two days a week we walk the entire class. Since the cold weather began, we have measured outside walking loops and have been keeping track of the distance the students have been walking,” said Mrs. Nyman. “We then draw it on a map. We are first walking across the school district, then Blair County, and then maybe the state. The students seem to enjoy keeping track of their miles, and we are also teaching math skills and map reading concepts.”

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PE buddies

The class also does a good job of integrating students from the Life Skills Room with students from the general curriculum. The Adapted PE Program readily recognizes student accomplishments made with the help of peers, helpers, and instructors.

“I am a firm believer that everyone can enjoy physical activity and be successful in our classes,” said Mr. Lovrich. “The students in our Adapted PE class are very special kids. They come to class and do all that we ask them to do to the best of their abilities.”

It is great seeing the smiles on both sets of students at the end of the period when they are giving out high fives.”

— Mr. Lovrich

The process is made easier with “PE Buddies,” groups of students from the general curriculum who volunteer to work with students in Adapted PE.

“We have been trying to include some PE students from other classes as ‘PE Buddies’ in our Adapted PE class. They come into class every so often and help our Adapted PE class during different skill practices and play games with them,” said Mr. Lovrich.

One buddy, sophomore Paige Wenner, finds a great deal of joy in working with the class.

“I want a career in working with special needs kids,” said Paige. “I’m good at it, and I love helping them. They make my day.”

Mr. Lovrich feels the benefits of the “PE Buddy” system go both ways.

“I think it is beneficial to everyone involved. I think our Adapted PE students look to them as role models and enjoy hanging out with the other students,” he said. “For our PE buddies, it gives them an opportunity to interact with Mrs. Carson’s class and see what these students can accomplish. It is great seeing the smiles on both sets of students at the end of the period when they are giving out high fives. I think the more interaction we have between our students the better.”

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Beyond a gym class

The benefits of Adapted PE are seen even beyond the class.  Mrs. Brenda Wilt, whose son Cole is a junior in Mrs. Carson’s room, said Cole participated in Adapted PE when he was a student at Tyrone Area High School and for one year at B-A. He has now been mainstreamed into general Phys. Ed.

“I believe this style of intervention has helped Cole on my levels. First of all,  lot of children with autism seems to enjoy their electronics more than physical activities,” said Mrs. Wilt.  “Having Adapted PE, we knew Cole was getting at least 30 minutes of exercise two times a week.”

In the end, the students from Mrs. Carson’s class give their all to earn good grades in PE.

“This is something they look forward to daily,” Mrs. Carson said.  “My students amaze me every day, no matter what the task. I’m very appreciative to the PE teachers for accommodating my students and making gym class fun and meaningful.”

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