Pirate News: Adaptive PE class teaches valuable lessons.

October 7, 2021

Pirate News: Adaptive PE class teaches valuable lessons.

Pirate News is a presentation of Hart Public Schools in partnership with Oceana County Press. 

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — Hart High School physical education teacher Brad Francis teaches an adaptive PE class that involves non-disabled students who encourage and guide disabled students. In the process, new friendships are formed, and students learn valuable lessons about acceptance and empathy. 

“When I first came here in 2007, they introduced it to me, and I thought, ‘that sounds great,’ because I had taken classes like this at Western (Michigan University) for adaptive PE,” Francis said of the West Shore Educational Service District offering the program at HHS.

“They wanted Mia Altland’s (special education) class to get physical activity, and it would be great to get some of the (HHS) students and incorporate them into the class and they could kind of be mentors. Our thought process was not only to get them to be active with Mia’s class but also to hopefully build relationships with students they normally wouldn’t build a relationship with. A lot of them are getting out of their comfort zone, and it takes them a little bit. But after a while, they get used to it. I’ve had some students take it three years, because they love it so much.

“I used to teach elementary PE early in my career, and I loved that grade level because they were so happy to come into the classroom, and they love being in PE. I kind of relate that class to an elementary class because they’re just happy to be here — moving, smiling. Not only if I’m having a bad day or if these students are having a bad day, they see them come in happy and ready to go, and they’re happy to just be a part of it. I think it kind of changes their mood almost.”

Because special education students in Michigan can stay in the public school system until the age of 26, Francis has worked with some of the students for over a decade. “I’ve seen a lot of these kids from age 14 to 26.

“What we’re trying to do here most importantly is be physically active. What I will do with a lot of games is simplify everything — the rules; make the ball bigger; make it so the students can be successful. Depending on the student’s disability, they’re not going to have the hand-eye coordination that everyone else is going to have. We’re trying to make the games easy but fun.”

For instance, basketball has no out-of-bounds or traveling rules.

“We play modified versions of volleyball. You can let the ball bounce on the ground once every time someone hits it, and then we just don’t let the ball hit the ground twice. We use a bigger ball.

“A lot of games are running around and tagging nicely to stop people and then tossing it to people.

“We’re making it more about being active and having fun and trying not to be ultra competitive. Sometimes I have to take some of my kids who have a competitive edge, and say, ‘Guys, we need to slow down. You can compete a little bit, but you have to slow down and give the ball to someone in Mia’s class.”

School counselor Jennifer Copenhaver finds the right students to enroll in the class, said Francis. “They need to be empathetic.

“I like how we interact with Mia’s class,” said Hart High School senior Gumaro Villeda. “I like being able to inspire them to move on and keep running. If they can’t run laps, we encourage them to speed walk laps. And if they can’t catch the ball, we encourage them to pick up the ball or we hand it to them. It’s very nice to give it back to them.”

Gumaro said he has developed a close friendship with one ESD student in particular named David. “He’s just very enjoyable to be around, and he’s a very happy character in my life. I encourage other kids to do this. It’s a nice way to give back to the community.”

“Meeting new people that I never got the chance to experience,” is something senior Yamille Zarraga said she enjoys about adaptive PE. “They’re different, and I love that about this whole class. A lot of people don’t talk to them. I like to communicate with them — they’re really nice and fun.”

The class has taught her a valuable lesson “of not being close-minded to new things.”

Brad Francis earned a “Make a Difference” plaque last May from the ESD for his hard work with the class. “Every day for the past 12+ years, he has taught a course called adaptive PE,” states a post on the WSESD’s Facebook page. “This class provides an opportunity for all students to be included in peer interactions and physical activity. Brad has truly made a positive impact on the lives of so many students.”

“It’s not just about being physically active — it’s about building relationships with students with disabilities,” said Francis. “It puts a smile on my face every day.”

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Francis surrounded by students and staff who nominated him for the WSESD’s Make a Difference Award. -WSESD photo.




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