By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN For some people, the start of a new year is the needed motivation to try something they have never done that will (hopefully) better themselves as individuals.
Although they do not have to wait until the fall to get started, 2019-2020 Dassel-Cokato middle and high school students will have that opportunity through a new class being offered: unified physical education (PE).
The DC School Board added the course to the district’s curriculum at its Dec. 17 meeting.
As described in the course outlines, “Unified physical education is a unique opportunity for students of varying ability levels and backgrounds to come together on equal terms through ongoing fitness, sports, leadership, and wellness activities.”
The class is designed to help students grow physically, intellectually, and socially. It will be offered to developmental adapted physical education (DAPE) students grades five through 12, and general education students in 11th and 12th grade.
High school physical education instructor Amanda Berg said discussions surrounding unified PE have come up frequently at recent education conferences, which helped inspire the idea.
“It started with Proctor and Wayzata high school, and has now taken off,” she said.
Berg shared that more than 50 schools are estimated to currently offer similar classes, and that Special Olympics of Minnesota has helped schools get started through extracurricular activities and unified PE classes.
Even though an official class was not yet set up, a few DC students got to experience what the class will be like a year ago, when the Courage Center in Golden Valley lent wheelchairs to DC’s PE department for a weeklong wheelchair basketball unit.
“It was very eye-opening to learn how certain people with disabilities get their exercise or do fun sports,” shared former student Steele Kumpela.
His classmate, Nathan Zitzloff agreed: “Wheelchair basketball was a new experience. [It] was fun to be able to adapt a game so [one of] my classmate[s] could enjoy it and be in the same situation as the rest of the class.”
In addition to learning how to perform adaptive sports, general education students will be involved with planning the activities, modifications, and strategies needed for success.
“I feel, participating in adapted sports helps to spread awareness for others, as we often get caught up in our own lives and don’t always think about what others have going on,” stated DAPE instructor Vincent Pokornowski.
Expected outcomes for the class participants include: increased understanding of disabilities and how to advocate for individuals with disabilities; increased physical fitness; improved activity-specific skills; increased ability to cooperate and work together with classmates; being able to effectively describe how to make better health and lifestyle changes; and increased understanding of sports rules and strategies.
“I hope they take away an awareness of students who may be different than themselves,” Berg stated. “However, more than anything, I hope these students form friendships which will last a lifetime.”