Program helps students share the experiences of classmates with special needs
Kearney, Mo., November 10, 2022: Not being able to see was an eye-opening experience for Kearney Middle School seventh-grader Peter Jensen.
Mr. Jensen wore a ski mask with taped-over lenses and attempted to strike a kickball under the guidance of his maskless partner in the KMS gym on Monday, Oct. 31. The exercise proved challenging, but that was part of the point. It was all part of a two-day program to provide every student with the experience of playing sports adapted for individuals with special needs.
“This was difficult, for sure,” Jensen said. “It’s valuable because it helps you feel what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, someone with special needs. It also helps you learn how to rely on your other senses.”
The program was led by staff members with Midwest Adaptive Sports, which is headquartered in Dearborn, Mo. The non-profit organization is primarily focused on positively impacting the lives of those with physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioral challenges through adaptive recreational and competitive sports.
After KMS PE teacher Troy Resler shepherded a flock of seventh graders into one corner of the gym, Midwest Adaptive Sports President Stan Weston talked them through what they were about the experience and why it was important.
“That little word, ‘adapt:’ it means, ‘to change.’ We help people who need things changed a little bit in order to enjoy these sports,” Mr. Weston said. “We’re here to show you how easy it is to do something good for somebody, to make a small change that makes a big difference. And they don’t have to be special needs. You can do something good for anybody.”
One group of students was taught how to play basketball while in wheelchairs, under the guidance of Midwest Adaptive Sports Wheelchair Basketball Director Matt Bollig. The other group played blind kickball, with Weston showing them how to follow the directions of their sighted helpers and to use audio signals – loud clapping and ringing made by other students – to locate the bases.
Kearney School District Physical Therapist Anne Hayter invited Coach Weston and his staff to lead the program at KMS in order to help the students learn how to engage positively with classmates who have special needs. She had significant support from KMS PE teacher Kristen Campbell.
“We know that one of the best ways of building empathy and understanding is to have students get a sense of what people with special needs experience every day,” Ms. Hayter said. “This Midwest Adaptive Sports program is perfect because it’s fun but also very effective. You can see that these kids really get it, and that awareness will impact how they interact with their classmates moving forward.”