Originally published Oct. 25, 2019 in Hometown Life.
By Ed Wright
Designing each day’s lesson plans can be an adventure for Northville’s Cooke School adaptive physical education teacher Elizabeth Adams.
And carrying out those plans can be exhausting.
But Adams wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For instance, today we’re doing volleyball. I’ll have to figure out ways to get all the students — from severely mentally impaired kids to high-functioning students who are almost capable of playing high school sports — engaged in the activity. I want them all to experience success, no matter what level they’re at.”
Adams’ tactics are working.
On Nov. 7 in Lansing, she will be awarded the 2019 SHAPE Michigan Adapted Physical Education Teacher of the Year award.
To qualify for the honor, Adams was required to meet SHAPE America standards and guidelines for K-12 physical education programs, utilize various teaching methodologies and plan innovative learning experiences, provide service to the community and participate in ongoing professional development.
Adams checks all these boxes on a daily basis, said Cooke Principal Jennifer Bugar.
“Elizabeth brings so much energy and innovative ideas to her job,” said Bugar. “Not only does she come up with ideas about how to help her students learn about new activities and sports, but she focuses on our goal of improving their communication skills.”
Cooke School is a special education center program that services students from 12 local school districts in western Wayne County. The student population includes students ages 3-26, who are severely cognitively impaired, severely multiply impaired, and students dual-diagnosed with a cognitive and emotional impairment.
The special education center program is funded by the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency and operated by Northville Public Schools.
Adams’ career path was headed in a different direction before a high school volunteering opportunity changed her life.
“Up until my senior year of high school I was going to go into physical therapy,” she revealed. “I volunteered in a special-education room (at Ionia High School) and I loved it. In college (at Eastern Michigan University), I decided to pursue a major in cognitively impaired education and an adaptive physical education minor.
“I was lucky enough to get hired in here at Cooke right out of college.”
Adams’ Cooke colleagues describe her as “caring, compassionate” and a master at “scaffolding and differentiating her lessons in fun ways so that all can, and want, to contribute.”
Adams often goes beyond the call of duty, doing everything from helping get students off the buses in the morning to eating lunch with them throughout the week.
“Elizabeth is also very dedicated to Special Olympics,” added Bugar. “She’s just a huge advocate for getting our kids out into the community.”
Adams said she was hooked by the Special Olympics experience immediately upon attending her first competition in Mount Pleasant.
“I used to be a high school volleyball and softball coach,” she shared. “But once I started taking Cooke students to the Special Olympics, I knew that’s where I needed to be.”
Doing what she does can be exhausting, Adams admitted.
“But to see the joy and excitement the students display when they’re participating in activities I helped design far outweighs any fatigue,” she said, smiling.