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Seattle P.E. class encourages inclusion for all students

A pilot program at Seattle Public Schools brings special education students alongside general education students in P.E. classes.

SEATTLE — A pilot program at Seattle Public Schools has students in special education taking class right alongside general education students. The Adapted Physical Education program is currently offered in six middle schools and high schools across Seattle Public Schools. 

Students in special education are partnered up with students in general education, and the results have been positive on all sides.

"I feel great. I think this class is the best class I've ever been in," one student told us. "The teachers... respect how I feel and I respect them."

Amy Matsen teaches this class of middle schoolers at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School in Seattle. 

"It's a really cool program," she said. "You have a combination of special education students and gen-ed students that come together and get to have a P.E. experience that is specifically designed for them to succeed."

Toni Bader, herself a longtime P.E. teacher, is an Adapted Physical Education specialist. She designed the program specifically to have a universal approach, and she was recently honored as a National Adapted Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the Society of Healthy and Physical Educators.

"The structure's really intentional," she said. 

The way class begins with a greeting and ends with an exchange of compliments is very purposeful and just as important as the physical education component.

Basketball is just one of the units covered over the course of the semester. Others include racket sports, track and field, and even rowing. No matter what, the structure of the class is meant to accommodate all levels, giving each student the ability to challenge themselves to reach their highest potential.

The teammates helping their partners get something out of it too.

"It makes me feel good," one student said, "because I'm helping them out, and we like change things up from that class so they can do it and feel what we feel."

Both Bader and Matsen said they're already seeing the positive impacts of this class outside the classroom. 

"These are life skills that they take outside the classroom," Matsen said. "They'll see each other in the hallway and say, 'Hi.' A couple of our special education students go out during lunch now, and they're hanging out with everybody during lunch."

The hope now is that the program can reach even more students, as Bader aims to get training for the Adapted Physical Education approach added to accreditation programs statewide. Ultimately, the goal is to make Adaptive P.E. an elective available to all students across all schools.

Click HERE to learn more about the adapted P.E. program.