Forest Hills — A big part of Jaylen Scott’s personality could probably be boiled down to this: “I like to be dared,” said the Central Woodlands sixth-grader.
And while she made that admission thinking more in terms of roller coasters than gym class, she concedes she also readily accepts the challenge of fitness training, hanging by her arms and knee hockey.
What’s not so helpful is when her use of a walker gets in the way of her ability to participate fully with her peers.
That challenge has been met more widely for Jaylen and other district students with special needs, thanks to a $17,800 grant awarded in the fall from the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation. K-12 PE teachers in the district now can offer students adaptive equipment that allows them to twirl, climb, kick, catch and dunk with their classmates.
And even more action verbs are being added as teachers and students come up with sometimes unexpected ways to use the new tools, which include slow-motion soccer balls, bowling ramps and footplate covers for wheelchair users, and textured activity balls and beeper balls for those with visual challenges.
In a recent class led by teacher Laura Korhorn at Pine Ridge Elementary, for example, first-graders broke into six groups to try out some of the new equipment, which Korhorn invited them to use as a moving obstacle course.
First, they used circular and oblong cushions to mark a path they laid as they made their way toward a hoop. After walking, crawling or hopping through the center, they grabbed a textured, easy-grip ball and attempted to shoot it through a free-standing adjustable-height basketball hoop.
Wesley Hooper waited his turn to try, then laid his oblong cushions side by side rather than end to end, making it easier for him to keep his balance.
“Hey, that’s a great strategy,” Korhorn told him.
Michelle Becker, a district instructional coach who applied for the grant on behalf of all the PE teachers, said guidance came from Michelle Gallery, a Kent ISD physical therapist who, before the grant, had shuttled a limited number of adaptive tools throughout the 14 FHPS buildings she serves.
Becker said it was a two-year process before the grant request was made.
“We needed to have a solid approach,” she said. Gathering background allowed teachers to collaborate with one another on how both they and their students can and are using the equipment. “It has really sparked conversation about sharing those ideas (of) how to incorporate (the equipment) in their lessons.
“I think this is just the start. We’re just going to continue to put together a better framework.”
Benefits are Huge, Far-reaching
Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Brink said it’s not the group’s largest one-time grant, “but it certainly is on the higher end of our grant awards.” As for why, she said, “it was simple. Not only is it what is best for kids, but it supports the district’s vision of ‘all learners achieving individual potential.’ … This grant does more than just support achievement in the PE classroom; it also promotes inclusivity, respect, engagement, collaboration and a sense of belonging and understanding.”
The grant comes at a pivotal time, Gallery said. The social-emotional learning piece is that students with disabilities can interact equitably with their peers while honing skills such as decision-making, teamwork and self-awareness, and students who do not have disabilities are less likely to see them as impairments.
Now, for example, a student with a visual challenge can play ball games with their sighted classmates using a ball that emits a beeping sound. And, in a stroke of ingenuity on one teacher’s part, a wheelchair user can simulate jumping rope and gain upper-body agility and coordination by using a jump rope that has been cut in half. And for students who might have trouble with motor skills such as grasping items like, say, a Frisbee, the circular foam pieces can stand in and be just as airborne as their classmates’.
“What we are finding is that there are all kinds of kids with different needs, and more students with disabilities are being integrated into gen-ed settings who 10 or even five years ago used to be in center programs,” Gallery said. “We’re also seeing anxiety and different sensory sensitivities. … if we want to make the experience meaningful for all students and particularly with other students, we need better resources and better information on how to meet their needs.”
Another benefit Becker noted is that the new equipment “is not just helping the students we thought we would be helping; there’s a lot of excitement among all students, and the teachers. It’s had a larger impact than we realized.”
Korhorn said as much as she prepared for that class of first-graders to enter the Pine Ridge gym.
“It’s so great seeing the smiles on their faces when they can participate now that we can adapt to all abilities.”