Kinesiology undergrads work with local students with disabilities

Monday, July 29, 2019
Kinesiology students practice sitting volleyball

Kinesiology students practice sitting volleyball for the Adapated Physical Education Program.

Adapted physical activity program teaches motor skills, promotes fitness  

By Lisa Owens Viani

An innovative partnership between San Francisco State University’s Department of Kinesiology and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) helps students with disabilities improve their motor skills, get rewarding physical exercise and receive individualized coaching. Through SF State’s Department of Kinesiology Therapeutic Exercise (KITE) Program, part of its Adapted Physical Education Added Authorization program, the school district brings K-12 students, many of whom have autism, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, Down’s syndrome or attention deficit disorder, to the University campus, where kinesiology undergrads work with them one-on-one. The kinesiology students teach them how to throw, catch, jump, and perform other fundamental motor skills. The idea behind adaptive physical education is versatility.

“If there’s a student in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy who has a hard time raising their arms and throwing overhand, we might modify that so they can manipulate or mimic that kind of skill,” explained Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Andy Yao, who coordinates the department’s programs, including the KITE Program. “We have devices where they can touch something and trigger completing the throw, for example.”

Yao said the program shows the young students how to apply their skills in the real world. “We help them develop their shooting skills in modified basketball games or bowling games and other sports. We figure out the best way for them to learn.”

That might include using an iPad or other technology to share images with the students, which helps them visualize the skills, Yao said. The program also gives the SFUSD students the opportunity to socialize with new people. “It’s a chance to communicate and learn how to talk to people and properly interact with peers and others.”

“If there’s a student in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy who has a hard time raising their arms and throwing overhand, we might modify that so they can manipulate or mimic that kind of skill. We have devices where they can touch something and trigger completing the throw, for example.”

In addition to the on-campus programs, the kinesiology undergrads also work off campus with the students, including helping out at three Special Olympics events each year, where they develop and set up adaptive skills stations. Approximately 1,500 K-12 and transition students from the school district participate, according to Michael Prutz, Special Olympics Coordinator, SFUSD Physical Education Office.

“We’d be hard pressed to conduct the unified team events and the skills stations without the assistance of the SFSU Adaptive PE program,” Prutz said.

Everyone benefits from this partnership, he said. “The SF State students see the immediate impact each station has in addressing some of the special needs requirements. We get the kinesiology students’ adaptation skills, and our students benefit by having young professionals interested in their growth and development.”

Yao said the partnership benefits the undergrads in many ways. “Their coursework teaches them the pedagogical theories in teaching or coaching people with disabilities and the KITE program gives them early hands-on experience. Our students learn about the laws that protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to participate in physical education and sports, and they gain the ability to design individualized physical activity programs for people with disabilities. The APE program prepares our student teachers well for upcoming challenges when they become PE teachers.”

Yao is learning from the program too. “People with disabilities can do a lot. They can run much faster than you. In wheelchair basketball I’m pretty much a novice. They surprise and impress me every time I work with them.”

Next year, Yao hopes to start an adaptive physical education program in Taiwan and develop it as a faculty-led study-abroad program. SF State students will visit Taiwan for three to four weeks, and visit campuses and hospitals, where they’ll work with children and adults with disabilities.