Everyone gets to play, learn

Students in the developmentally adaptive physical education class at the Fairmont Elementary School play a game during class.

Fairmont Elementary School is working to include everyone.

One way is through a developmentally adapted physical education class modeled on the Special Olympics Unified Sports program. The class allows for all students, including those with special needs, to safely and successfully participate in phys ed to learn fitness and wellness skills.

Allison Klassen, an employee of Southern Plains Education Cooperative, has been teaching the class since it began last school year.

There are 16 special needs students and 16 sixth-grade peer mentors who volunteer with the class. The students who volunteer do not miss any class time, just homeroom. The 32 students are divided into two classes, each meeting one day per week. The class allows the peer mentors to assist the special needs students.

However, it isn’t the only PE class the students attend.

“It’s an addition,” Klassen noted. “All of Fairmont’s classes are inclusive, which means that special needs students are included with the general ed students. This class is more geared toward special needs students and helping them work on the things they need to work on, and having the mentors be good examples and leaders.”

Klassen explained more about the Unified Sports program.

“Unified PE is part of Unified Sports in Special Olympics,” she said. “People in the general population play basketball or softball with people who have special needs, so they all play together on the same team, whereas most of Special Olympics is all the players have special needs.

“We play games but we also just talk some days. Some of the students struggle with communicating so we work on communication, and we work on sharing and motor skills like throwing and running. It’s a really good all-encompassing class.”

Klassen said the peer mentors get to work on being leaders, while the special needs students get a chance to communicate with others, so the class is beneficial to everyone.

“The special needs students don’t always get the chance to talk to other students so this gives all the students involved the chance to get to know each other better,” Klassen said.

Madysen Tonne, a volunteer sixth-grade mentor, shared why she likes helping.

“I like seeing the other students smile and have a good time and having fun with everyone else because in class they’re kind of off to the side,” she said.

“I like helping out. They usually don’t get to play games like this,” added sixth-grade mentor Andrew Haugen.

“I like playing with the kids and I love my DAPE teacher, Allison. I love the big beach ball,” said Dominik Schultz, a fourth-grader.

Not all special needs students in the building get services from Klassen, just those who qualify for developmentally adapted physical education, which she also teaches at Martin County West and Truman.

Klassen added that next school year there will be a unified PE class at Fairmont High School for students in grades 10-12. She hopes the next step will be to get a Unified Sports team for Special Olympics and a unified club at the high school.

“This was a step in the right direction,” Klassen said of the class at the elementary.