We love hearing about what people are doing in their hometowns and schools to make their communities more accepting and respectful. We were fortunate enough to talk with Dr. Jayne McGuire, who is an associate professor in Humboldt State’s Department of Kinesiology and Recreation Administration. We had heard such good things about what the folks up in Humboldt were doing, we just had to get the details!
Can you please walk us through the HSU program?
Humboldt State University’s Recreation Administration program students are the people responsible for connecting Special Olympics with the schools up here. Last year, as an assignment for a class titled Leisure Programming, a group of students worked with a local mentor, Mike Rice, of the City of Arcata Recreation Division, to host a high school based Special Olympic bocce tournament. That event was such a success that the following semester, another group hosted a similar basketball tournament. Five local high schools participated and it was clear that they all had a great time and could benefit from some additional opportunities to play basketball. This year, I contacted all the Special Education teachers and Adapted Physical Education teachers from the five high schools and worked with them to create a school-based league. Following the five league games, the Recreation Administration students will again host the tournament.
How are the university students involved and what roles to they have?
Each semester about eight students have been working on the tournament planning and implementation project. They work together as a management team to plan the event, create the divisions, raise funds and resources, communicate with the schools, reserve the facilities, order supplies create brackets, schedule and implement the opening ceremonies, host and run the event and finally, evaluate the event upon completion.
What tips or thoughts would you share with special education teachers or parents?
Teachers are often overwhelmed and although they see the benefit of recreation involvement, it often takes a back seat to academics. My advice to parents is to get involved and help teachers create these opportunities. If someone just steps up and takes the lead, the rest will fall into place.
What kind of impact have you seen the program make on the students receiving special education services?
I can’t stress strongly enough the positive impact that programs like Special Olympics in the schools have on everyone involved. The student-athletes develop new skills, create friendships, become stronger and more physically fit, and have the opportunity to contribute to the school community. The peers at the school get to see this group of students in a new light that showcases their strengths. The teachers benefit because the practices and games reinforce skills and abilities that are embedded into the students’ IEPs. And then there’s the joy of playing, of being included, of succeeding, of seeing your students shine. This is harder to measure, but definitely evident.
What kind of impact have you seen the program make on the teachers and HSU students?
I get emails and phone calls from the teacher involved at least once a week telling me how happy they are that this opportunity has been created. The teachers report that their students are happier, more motivated to participate in PE and are getting recognition around school as athletes. The college students say that this opportunity has solidified their desire to create inclusive recreation programs throughout their careers. A few have come forward to enroll in our masters in adapted physical education program to move their careers in this direction.
Is there anything about your program you’d like to say that hasn’t been referenced in earlier questions?
Our program has definitely been developing organically. We started with one small tournament and now we have a five-week league play and are talking about adding track and field to the mix as well. What we are doing is not innovative, rather it’s opportunistic. There was a need in this community and we are working to address it.