Fall 2015

His team was trailing the Giants 5-0 when Darth Vader stepped up to the plate. He scowled when the score was announced, then swung his light saber and drove the ball into center field. After circling the bases, Darth joyously announced the new score: 100-5.

Charlie Robinson enjoys a game of baseball during the summer session of the Adapted PE curriculum. Children work with credentialed teachers and credential candidates who are adding skills to serve children with disabilities.

CHARLIE ROBINSONAKA DARTH VADER on this day—is a 9-year-old with Down syndrome. On a summer afternoon, he and his 7-year-old brother, Calvin—aka the Giants—were enjoying a game of tee ball in Redwood Bowl. Nearby, Humboldt State students who were enrolled in an intensive, one-week class took notes.

To meet the needs of children with disabilities like Charlie, skilled educators are badly needed, says Kinesiology professor Chris Hopper. Along with Department of Kinesiology & Recreation Administration faculty members Rock Braithwaite and Jayne McGuire, Hopper has developed an Adapted Physical Education (APE) program that answers the call for specially-trained teachers.

“WE’VE REESTABLISHED THE FULL CURRICULUM, with adjustments for some classes we didn’t have previously,” says Hopper. “There is a statewide shortage of teachers trained in adapted physical education, and we want to be a part of addressing that problem.”

APE adapts activities for the special needs of children with disabilities. Through the program, teaching credential students and currently credentialed teachers help children enjoy the benefits of physical fitness. Also gaining experience are undergraduate students in a variety of majors who have the opportunity to participate in the actual fieldwork through the HSU Fit component.

In the summer of 2013, Hopper secured a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Education grant to jump-start the program. The bulk of the funding goes toward paying students’ tuition, which encourages the number of applicants.

The new curriculum began in the fall of 2014, and one year into the ramped-up effort, the APE program is already attracting a steady flow of future teachers. Its inaugural class will graduate in December and will include students who have completed single-subject or special education teaching credentials with a special authorization in adapted PE. After completing thesis work, many will add a master’s degree in APE to their résumé.

Hopper points out that the APE program provides undergraduates with field experience that propels them into the credential program far ahead of the curve.

“In the early stages, undergraduates have come in with very limited experience working with children,” Hopper said. “It takes a while to figure things out, especially when you’re looking at a fairly broad range of disabilities. If we get them in early, they’ll be much more prepared.”

To provide that hands-on experience, Hopper and his staff have sought out local groups that support children with disabilities. Their services provide a substantial fieldwork component for credential candidates, undergraduates, and graduate students.

“The partnerships that are successful are with people and organizations who know what we’re looking for, and know that they can supply it,” Hopper says.

Classes like the directed field study summer session offer an opportunity to connect with the community. Another productive connection is through the local Special Olympics committee, which students have partnered with to organize and produce bocce ball tournaments and a popular high school basketball league. Despite those relationships, more options to practice new skills are needed, leading to the creation of HSU Fit.


IT’S FRIDAY EVENING, and the HSU pool is swamped with activity during an HSU Fit session. Bradley Carr, one of the older participants at age 18, is intent on making the biggest possible splash as others cheer him on. Bradley’s goal notwithstanding, the program’s greater objective has a ripple effect on all children with disabilities.

Conceived by McGuire, HSU Fit is a program for children with disabilities ages six to 18. Paired with peer partners—undergraduate students enrolled in McGuire’s REC 480 Practica course—each child follows a routine that addresses individual fitness goals over six weeks.

“There seems to be a lack of opportunities for kids who have disabilities to engage in recreation and fitness activities,” says McGuire, who also teaches in the Special Education and Secondary Teacher Credential program. “As soon as parents hear about HSU Fit, they want to sign their children up.”

Beyond the primary function of directly serving children with disabilities, the program also considers the non-disabled siblings and parents.

“When families have a child with disabilities, their brothers and sisters are often recreating in a different program,” McGuire says. “It’s a nice opportunity for disabled and non-disabled children to participate together.”

During the spring session of HSU Fit, Calvin Robinson, joined his brother, Charlie, for the Friday evening activities. According to Calvin’s peer-partner, Kanica Yiep, his inclusion has a distinct effect on Charlie.

“Calvin motivates his brother,” Yiep said. “Earlier, Charlie didn’t want to participate. He was resistant, but he saw his brother getting excited, and that encouraged him to join in.”

Another component of HSU Fit focuses on parents, who often need a break from the responsibilities of raising special needs children. During the Friday night activity slot, they can participate in an adult wellness program that offers cardiovascular training, yoga, relaxation, and other healthy pursuits. Parents can also use the time to shop, catch a movie, or go out to dinner.

“We took off hiking in the forest with our preschooler,” said Charlie and Calvin’s mother, Kim Robinson. “We were that confident in the program that we did not feel like we needed to stay and assist.”

The third component is teaching credential candidates working on their physical education authorization. They plan what is happening in the gym, what goes on in the dance room, and how pool activities are structured. They’re also responsible for training the peer partners, representing the final layer.

While the parents take a break, those peer partners take over, guiding children through their activities and monitoring progress. Students enrolled last spring came from a variety of majors, including Child Development, Psychology, Dance, Kinesiology, and Recreation Administration.

“What I appreciated most about HSU Fit was the program’s desire to adapt to the participant so they could engage the program with the same effortlessness as their non-disabled peers,” Robinson said. “For my son, who is very sensitive about his abilities and how other people view him, this aspect of the program was the most critical. He was able to feel successful, and, for lack of a better term, normal, with the way the program adapted to fit his needs.”

Adapted Physical Education

APE IS A PHYSICAL EDUCATION PROGRAM that has been modified to allow students with disabilities to participate in activities. Since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, the federal government mandates schools to provide adapted physical education services. Still, shortages of well-trained teachers have been a problem.

Part of any curriculum in Adapted PE focuses on health concerns of children with disabilities. Many have physical limitations that reduce their ability to exercise, another major challenge addressed by adapted physical education.

“One of the primary areas of concern for children with disabilities is health,” Hopper says. “We hope to prepare teachers who are capable of providing good quality services that include health education, and also support parents of disabled students.”

Recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that childhood obesity rates among students with disabilities are much higher. In addition to challenges with exercise, certain medications can cause weight gain.

Children with disabilities may also tire more easily, experience adverse reactions to heat and cold, and have mobility issues. Compounding the problem is limited access to modified facilities and equipment.

Equally important is the positive effect fitness has on brain processes. For instance, learning the rules of specific activities, like soccer, or how to keep score can be easily incorporated in fitness programs.

“Studies have demonstrated that there are specific connections between being fit and cognitive abilities,” said Rock Braithwaite, coordinator of Kinesiology graduate studies. “Trained teachers can help address the behavior variables that contribute to a lack of fitness among students with disabilities.”

In addition to running the programs for kids, the professors and students are also conducting research.Braithwaite is leading the research component, starting with a meta-analysis—a method of gathering statistics that can be combined and contrasted with other surveys to identify patterns and relationships.

“What our students are doing is looking at evidence-based practices that facilitate the best results for students and teachers,” Braithwaite said. “After the first series of studies comes out in the late spring, we’ll use that information to develop and design new studies to identify what we don’t know.”

Teaching Teachers

SEVERAL CURRENT STUDENTS are veteran teachers seeking master’s degrees in APE. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Recreation Administration at HSU in 2014, Quinn Pawlick decided to apply for the special education credential program, motivated by his experience volunteering with Special Olympics. He earned his mild-to-moderate special education credential in the spring of 2015, then added the moderate-to-severe authorization in the summer. He plans to finish his master’s degree in Adapted PE during the 2015-16 academic year.

“It fits in perfectly with my career goals,” said Pawlick, who busied himself assessing motor skills while a dozen children played baseball, soccer, and other games in Redwood Bowl. “They don’t feel like they’re being tested. It’s just a game. We look for things like their arm swing and if they’re running on the balls of their feet.”

Another student, David Pauls, has been teaching physical education in the St. Helena school district for 18 years. Observing an increase of students with disabilities at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary, he felt a need to upgrade his methods.

“I’ve recognized that I need to have more skills to be able to work with the students, to meet their needs,” said Pauls, who plans to complete his master’s thesis and graduate in 2016. “Seeing them enjoy activities without putting limits on themselves is rewarding. They’ll give anything a try, and have the resilience to try something without fear of failure.

“But the most rewarding part is when you meet with their parents and tell them what their child has been doing in class,” Pauls said. “They’re amazed at the progress their children have made, and they’re very grateful. It’s nice for a teacher to get that feedback.” End Story

What is Adapted Physical Education?

ADAPTED PHYSICAL EDUCATION is physical education adapted or modified to be as appropriate for a person with a disability as it is for a person without a disability.

Federal law mandates that physical education be provided to students with disabilities and defines physical education as the development of:

  • Physical and motor skills
  • Fundamental motor skills and patterns (throwing, catching, walking, running)
  • Skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports)

APPROXIMATELY 56 MILLION AMERICANS have a disability. Facts gathered by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition support why activity among disabled persons should be encouraged early in life:

  • The obesity rate for children with disabilities in the U.S. is 38 percent higher than for children without disabilities.
  • The obesity rate for adults with disabilities is 57 percent higher than for adults without disabilities.
  • Adults with disabilities are physically active on a regular basis about half as often as adults without disabilities (12 percent vs. 22 percent).
  • Significant disparities exist in access to health care, with 29 percent of people with disabilities showing unmet need compared to 12 percent for people without disabilities.