Students and people with special needs get lessons that last a
lifetime in an adapted physical education course
The Field House is abuzz with noontime
activity. A pickup game of basketball is in progress. Joggers warm up
for their runs and walkers take another lap on the indoor track.
At one end of the facility, children congregate around a jumble of play
equipment — plastic bats, tennis rackets, orange cones, hockey sticks,
foam shapes, and balls of all sizes and colors.
Eleven-year-old Josh and University of Maine junior Jarrod Gomes
retrieve a basketball and head for one of the hoops to start this week's
series of motor skill development activities.
For the next two hours, it's as if Josh and Jarrod are the only two in
Josh is dribbling and shooting the ball, barely able to contain his
excitement. No matter how many times he misses the basket or lets the
ball get away from him, Jarrod is there with encouragement and quick
lessons on how to hold and move the ball differently. After several
failed attempts at sinking a basket, Josh is told to try hitting the
backboard. The youngster dribbles on the run with Jarrod playing
defense. At one point, Jarrod drags over a plastic basketball hoop, half
the size of the regulation basket, and Josh succeeds in dunking the
"Good job. You're going to get it. Let's try that one again," says
Jarrod, giving Josh a high five before they move on to the next
activity, floor hockey.
Jarrod is one of 30 UMaine students enrolled in an undergraduate class
called Mainstreaming in Physical Education, working one-on-one with
adults and youngsters like Josh who have mental and/or physical
disabilities. Typically juniors and seniors, most of the UMaine students
have little or no experience interacting with persons with mild to
profound disabilities. As a result, the class becomes a learning
experience for both the UMaine students and their partners with special
The lessons aren't always easy.
"Remember last week, you showed me how you can catch?" says Professor of
Education Steve Butterfield to a little girl who refuses to go on with
her activity. "You caught five in a row."
The child steps up to the line on the floor to try again. "Hands ready,"
Butterfield says, crouching next to the girl to count her successful
catches and to watch her kick the ball back.
As the youngster basks in her success, Butterfield turns his attention
to the frustrated UMaine student. "That was knee action, but no
follow-through," he says, referring to the motor skills level the child
exhibited. "What level was that? OK, you're in charge. Try a little
For the past 18 years, Butterfield has taught this one-semester course
required for all UMaine physical education majors. The University of
Maine uses a living-laboratory model that brings persons with
disabilities to campus to work with students. The youngsters in the
program come from area schools; the adults from the Multiple Handicap
Center of Penobscot Valley in Bangor, Maine.
The class, part of the kinesiology and physical education program in the
College of Education and Human Development, meets three times a week. It
begins with an overview and history of teaching sports and physical
education for persons with disabilities. Mock labs are held in which the
students are blindfolded or use wheelchairs to better understand
For the remaining 10 weeks, Wednesday classes become the developmental
motor and aquatics lab in the Field House.
"They get a lot out of the activities that we're not able to do, like
using the (Latti Fitness Center) and pool," says Jeff Bosse of the six
adults he accompanies from the Multiple Handicap Center, part of Amicus.
"They all come back with big smiles on their faces. They have a sense of
For 11-year-old Josh, coming to UMaine is a highlight of his week.
"Often he does his (school) work because he knows he's going to the
program. It's great incentive," says education technician Jan Bennett
from Herbert Sargent School in Stillwater, Maine. "He's very well
coordinated and involved in a lot of recreational sports. I can see that
this (program) played a big part in it."
The UMaine students take a dynamic systems approach by modifying the
task and/or environment to meet special needs and achieve physical
education objectives. Students observe and problem-solve to help the
person with disabilities become more skilled and independent. Most
often, the changes are incremental.
"They don't see miracles," Butterfield says. "They understand we're not
in the business of curing people. But while the students may see a
little development in the people they're working with during the
semester, I see many changes over the years."
Joella Michaud of Brewer speaks passionately about the difference the
developmental motor and aquatics lab has made in the life of her son
Calvin, 9, who's been coming to the UMaine program for five years.
"At first he didn't like to get his face wet. Now he swims down and back
(the length of the pool). There's been such growth," says Michaud. "The
program focuses not so much on what the kids can't do but what they can.
Calvin used to be a child who couldn't make a mistake. Now he's not
afraid to try."
Senior Raffaela Wolf, Calvin's partner last fall, remembers her
nervousness during the first couple lab periods. "I had no previous
experience working with individuals with disabilities, but I also knew
that I could master the challenge with focus, hard work, dedication and
determination," says the kinesiology and physical education major, and
member of the UMaine women's ice hockey team. "After the first couple
labs, I was really enjoying the class.
"In our profession, we should be prepared to work with any individual.
It can be a very rewarding experience working with someone who has a
Butterfield likens the developmental motor and aquatics lab to basic
training. "Students in the class go through five stages of adapting to
the experience," he says. "The first stage is fear, which almost
immediately moves to stage two: anger at me for giving them this
difficult assignment. Soon the students feel more competent,
self-confident and creative, planning more adventurous, yet still
developmentally appropriate activities, such as dancing and even
swimming in the deep end of the pool.
"At stage five, there's ownership," says Butterfield. "Next semester,
they'll be the ones sticking their heads in the door to see who's
working with ‘their' partners." Some of them also volunteer to help
evaluate their peers in the next class.
That's not to say that every UMaine student reaches stage five. By
semester's end, there can be one or two students who are "still not
there," admits Butterfield. But they have a good start toward feeling
confident and capable when working with persons with disabilities.
Over the years, some students have gone on to receive teaching
certification in adapted physical education. Others take the lessons
learned into their classrooms and communities, becoming advocates for
the rights and needs of persons with disabilities.
"This class went far beyond my expectations," says Brandy Walsh, an
elementary education major. "I honestly have never learned so much. I
found the experience to be one that really shaped my academic career. I
hope I can impact children's lives in the same way both Professor
Butterfield and this class impacted mine."
by Margaret Nagle
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.