Ed Student Benefits from Inclusion
eyes were darting side to side looking for a student on the other
team to challenge with a fast throw. Then with an explosive forward
arm motion, Alex let loose a dart of a toss that was headed right
to a girl on the other team. With lightening quick reflexes, she
quickly raised her hands and caught the spongy ball, firmly in
her hand. “Yea,” screamed the jubilant girl. “Ohh,” said Alex,
his smile still beaming brightly. A teammate quickly tapped Alex
on the shoulder, and in this cooperative brand of dodge ball,
where no one sits out, Alex never had to leave the game he was
having so much fun playing.
Alex, age 10, this was more then just the ordinary gym class.
As a student at The Jewish Guild for the Blind’s Guild School,
Alex was participating in his first mainstream physical education
class at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School.
an opportunity for him to participate with other kids that are
close to his level of athletic ability,” says Debbie Workman,
Alex’s teacher for the past two years. “The way he performs on
a basketball court allows him to have social interactions with
typically developing kids.”
Alex, who has vision and hearing impairments, has a talent and
love for sports. The ultra fast and agile Alex, can shoot a basketball,
throw a football, and hit a baseball despite his apparent disabilities.
Thus, taking a physical education class with kids close to his
sports ability, plays to his strengths and speaks to the principles
behind the inclusion of students with special education needs
into regular education (The Regular Education Initiative).
The Regular Education Initiative (REI) began to gather momentum
in 1975 when congress passed the Education for All Handicapped
Children Act. In 1990 a reauthorization of this law, The Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), brought focused attention
to where children with disabilities should be educated. Today,
even with the legislative mandate the question remains: Should
students’ with special learning needs be taught in regular education?
think it’s great,” says Mark Alter, Steinhardt School of Education
professor at NYU when asked about Alex attending gym class at
Columbia Grammar. “We live in an integrated culture and no one
should be denied access to and participation in any environment
because of a physical barrier, a disability, or a label.”
At Columbia Grammar, Alex’s first physical education experience
was, indeed, great—and, not just for him. The children at Columbia
Grammar quickly accepted Alex into their class and supported him
during the group’s activities. As we often see, kids can become
overly competitive, so to accept Alex into their class required
the other children to adapt their way of playing.
kids learned a lot about themselves,” says the physical education
teacher Jeanne Levin. “They saw how well they were able to interact
with Alex and the game took on a more significant meaning.”
Alex also did his part. “He adjusted very well,” says Levin. “He
seemed so comfortable. He watched me and followed directions closely.
He was respectful of my lesson.”
In fact, Alex proved to Levin and to me that all kids are basically
the same. While receiving the pre-game instructions, Alex was
no more fidgety then any of the other students in the class. “He
was excited like the rest of the kids,” says Ms. Levin. “He was
basically looking at me and saying ‘let’s play teacher,’ no more
talking.” His classmates for the day were no different.
While this experience was a new one for Alex and the Columbia
Grammar third graders, they played together like “old” friends.
Their differences seemed to disappear as they played. The students
from Columbia Grammar were impressed with Alex’s ability and attitude,
and Alex was made to feel like a member of the class. Guild School
principal, Dr. Carole Gothelf, couldn’t hold back her enthusiasm;
“We are strengthened by the fact that once again, our kids can
make it in the mainstream.”#
Cohen is the Adaptive Physical Education teacher at the Jewish
Guild for the Blind, Guild School.
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