Originally published Oct. 1, 2019 by School News Network.
By Hannah Lentz
For the more than 30 students in Ryan Fletke’s adaptive physical education class, gym time is about more than a workout.
In its first year at Thornapple Kellogg High School, the Links program brings together general education students and special education students for a collaborative hour of physical education. Fletke, who has a degree in K-12 special education teaching as well as physical education, said he is grateful for the chance to teach such a collaborative class.
“This is about more than just having a gym class. It’s about creating friendships that go outside of the gym and hopefully into the halls and beyond.”
Focusing on exercises for students with a physical disability that would hinder them in a traditional gym class, Fletke has fitted the adaptive education program to their needs.
“We try to exercise motor skills in as many variations as we can,” he said. “Every day we have a new activity that involves stretching, skipping or hopping, all things that are very important for these students.”
For students who may have physical obstacles that prevent them from participating in some of those activities, Fletke has arranged for use of the spin room and minimal contact sports such as large board games and ladderball.
“This is a class where there is something for everyone,” he said. “We are very lucky for all of the support we have received.”
Fletke received a grant of $500 for classroom equipment from the Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation through the Jeff Lehman Memorial Fund. The Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation is an affiliate of the Barry Community Foundation that supports initiatives in the district and surrounding community.
Before general education students are accepted as “linkers” into the adaptive physical education class, they go through a series of interviews where they are asked why they want to be in the class.
“Students are selected as a linker if they exemplify leadership, are willing to attend student trainings and meetings, have two recommendations from teachers and have a heart to help other students,” said Lance Laker, co-director of the Links program.
If selected, students take the adaptive physical education class instead of an elective in their schedule.
“These students are chosen because they want to make a difference, demonstrate empathy and have a heart to make an impact with students and raise awareness and support for students with disabilities,” Laker said. “We truly are blessed with an amazing group and the students would argue that for everything they teach or help the student they are paired with, they are learning much more and truly love it.”
Sophomore Sophie Alguire heard about the class and decided that she was interested in finding out more right away, she said.
“I really do love these kids,” she said. “This is a great way for all of us to make new friends in the school and I would do it again for sure.”
Sophomore Keanna Dudik wanted a chance to make new friends when she applied for the program.
“I thought this would be a cool opportunity to be helpful in a different environment and connect with people outside of my friend group,” she said. “It is a really fun class that is full of friendships. It always flies by because we are having so much fun.”
Laura Stolsonburg, who is paired with Keanna, agrees that the class goes by faster than she wants it to.
“I have fun goofing around with everyone,” she said. “We do so many fun things every day.”
For students in the Links program and those they are paired with, there are that will last after graduation, Fletke said.
Every Friday, linkers create a special lesson plan that the class follows, including a new activity and a series of stretches.
“They are planning these activities and basing it on the class’ needs,” he said. “I ran the first Friday lesson and then they took over and picked what activities they would like to do on Friday. I help with the lesson plan when they need, but they are in charge of creating a schedule and leading the class.”
Students also learn stretches they can do at home and popular games they can participate in outside the class.
“These are lessons that they will use forever, both linkers and their partners,” Fletke said.
In the coming years, Fletke plans to write more grant requests for equipment for his class.
“I want to make sure there is a variety of activities each day,” he said. “We have had great success in our first year and I am excited to see how the class grows and changes as we move forward.”