Originally published Feb. 5 in The Sumpter Item.
By Angela Crosland
Research reveals that physical activity is 4.5 times lower for children and youth with disabilities compared to their peers. That is certainly not the case for Teriann Nash’s class of 11 exceptional students at Lee Central High School.
For 45 minutes each day, physical and drivers education teacher George Wallace leads the students in a rigorous workout catered to their individual physical abilities. For one, it may be standing, for another it may be jumping and yet another it may be moving every part of the body. There are also a few other benefits, says Nash, who teaches the class with the assistance of Melinda Carraway and Patricia Witherspoon.
“It is an amazing program which allows them to interact with each other and gives them the chance to get up and be physically fit but at the same time it’s on their level,” says Nash. “They are with me all day and that gives them a chance to see other students, (it’s) a way for them to have some normalcy in their day.”
The activities include bowling, basketball, kickball, balloon volleyball, Wii games and others. Whatever the activity, the students know they can depend on it happening.
“I have them every day, so they have that continuity,” says Wallace. “The continuity really to me has been important. They look forward to it. They can tell you what the schedule is. (If) we have to change a little bit, (they ask) why’d we have to change?”
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Wallace meets the students in their room and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they are in the gymnasium at LCHS. During this time, there is a little interaction with the other students but typically, the students have the gym to themselves.
Wallace says he takes the students there to learn, practice and master skills that will allow them to be physically active for a lifetime. While physical education class has the same purpose, this adaptive physical education curriculum allows for students to work on a more individualized curriculum that focuses on each student’s strengths, needs, and interests.
For example, one student’s demonstrated progress was to go from walking with the assistance of braces to now walking without them. The students have varying degrees of mobility, says Wallace, who seems to have mastered the art of catering to their individual needs.
“I’m told I’m pretty good at making adjustments,” says Wallace, who learned some of what he knows from an adaptive physical education undergraduate course he took in the Saleeby Center on the campus of Coker College in Hartsville.
“I’d have interaction with what they referred to as clients. I was working with younger, school-aged (students),” says Wallace. “For example, if they had problems with fine motor movements. I had a little bit of that but not enough to say I know how to do this or I know how to do that.”
He says his interaction with the students has been mostly a matter of the heart.
“A lot of it’s just been you treat them like you would want yours to be treated, and when you are there, they are yours,” Wallace says.
Though quite a few in the district are quick to credit Wallace with the implementation of the program, he is just as quick to clarify.
“I created the program but I’m not the one who initiated it,” says Wallace. “I’m not going to take any credit for that.”
It basically came about with an assistant principal who just asked if Wallace would be interested in working with the special needs class.
“(They) really gave me no parameters, didn’t tell me what to do, which didn’t restrict me or give me any limitations,” says Wallace. “I just quickly jumped on the opportunity.”
Though he is unsure why the request was made, he does know it is what he’s meant to do. Wallace has taught in Lee County for 29 years and is one of three teachers who have been at LCHS since the building opened in 2000. During this time, the program has progressed, he says.
“Initially it was probably a combination of PE and music or either band,” says Wallace. “We’ve had several band and music people come in and out (so) I do the whole thing now all year long as opposed to sharing the responsibility with somebody else.”
Armed with a master’s degree from the United States Sports Academy and an undergraduate degree in physical education from Coker College, Wallace has plans to continue his work in the area of adaptive physical education, right where he began it – LCHS. He’ll continue to do it, exceptionally.