Skip To ContentSkip To Content
    Celebrating Empathy, Teamwork, Diversity, and Fitness in Unified/Partner Physical Education
    Posted on 10/10/2018
    Two students sit in a gym during unified PE yoga class

    Celebrating Empathy, Teamwork, Diversity, and Fitness in Unified/Partner Physical Education

    Schools such as Chief Sealth International High School are one of the several schools in the district offering unified/partner physical education (PE) courses. Now in its second year, the pilot program began in 2017 in three middle schools: Eckstein, Jane Addams, and Mercer.

    Unified/partner PE brings general education and special education students together into an inclusive learning environment, where the pace of the class is respectful of all abilities. Students are engaged in scaffolded skills and positive social opportunities. Instructional scaffolding is a process through which a teacher adds supports for students to help them move progressively toward mastery of tasks.

    In unified/partner PE, students with physical, intellectual, and social-emotional disabilities are paired with general education students. The general education student models and supports success for peers, while participating. The teacher is at the center, demonstrating and facilitating the class. What is unique to this course is how peer support and encouragement are constant and critical fitness skills are emphasized simultaneously.

    At Chief Sealth specifically, Mondays are a rotating unit, yoga is offered on Tuesdays, swimming on Thursdays, and “fitness Fridays” as part of the unified/partner PE curriculum.

    On one Tuesday at Chief Sealth, the spacious gym echoed with a teacher’s voice. Jody Rosenbalm, a speech language pathologist, was sitting in a circle and leading students in breathing exercises. Rosenbalm leads the Tuesday yoga classes at the school. Some of the yoga positions required more flexibility than most, but as the teacher modeled poses, the students intently followed along. When positions were challenging, all students made attempts and adaptations were made for success.

    Though inclusive classrooms do provide both groups of students opportunities for collaboration, friendships, and fun; a unified/partner PE setting is much more flexible and less restrictive. Abundance of movement, scaffolding of skills, and positive peer support are common sights to see. Additionally, there is an opportunity for both groups of students to learn about each other in a setting where a focus is placed on their strengths.

    For students like Kristian, an 11th grade student at Chief Sealth, the unified/partner PE class provides him an opportunity to interact with peers outside the special education classroom, in a setting that provides him with a space where his needs are understood and respected. Josie Stump, Kristian’s teacher, shared that for an extroverted student like him, being around other peers in a gym setting gives him the opportunity to be himself.

    The class was winding down, and Kristian decided to sit and take a break. He tried to get his body to model Rosenbalm’s position, but his first attempt proved to be challenging. As he sat down to gather his breath, his partner reached over and raised up her hand. “Good job, Kristian!” she said. He beamed and gave her a high five. He noticed his partner following along with the teacher’s voice and poses, and soon got back up to try again.

    Throughout the district, students participating in the unified/partner PE model find value and meaning in their experiences learning from each other. For some students, it’s the ability to forge friendships with other peers while being physically active. For others, it’s being able to mentor and encourage students that need additional support, while engaging in skill development and teamwork. For some, it’s being able to recognize the differences in others and celebrating diversity through empathy and action. All this with the culminating vision that we have of all students being physically active, included, healthy, and being leaders as they continue to transfer these skills out into our communities.

    To see more on the impact that unified/partner PE has on the students that are part of it, watch the videos below.