Kadin Vire can easily communicate and comprehend the needs of life-skills students. She is one of 32 Finley Junior High students involved in general education that participate with the newly established program Partners in PE, which provides modified activities for students with special needs.

“I like that they are giving them a chance to do something,” said Vire while standing outside the gymnasium. “Normally, people just think they can’t do anything, but there is a lot you don’t know about them that they can do.”

Vire shared she was taken back by her previous partner who is blind and partakes in dance in her free time. The involvement in Partners in PE has brought a new perspective to the life-skill students she works with even though she has befriended several students in the past.

Finley Junior High is the first campus in the district to implement the program, and Waxahachie ISD is the fourth in Ellis County to incorporate it. Red Oak ISD established the program on all but one elementary campus in 2011. Ennis ISD has participated in the program for more than 15 years and Midlothian has implemented it as well.

Finley principal Derek Zandt began his journey with WISD 13 years ago as a middle school basketball and football coach and said the staff has wanted to implement the program for a few years now.

“It allows students with disabilities to get skills and work one-on-one with peers that help them get through the different games or skills they learn,” Zandt explained.

The two main PE coaches, Brenden Glenn and Lola Evans, participated in one-day training with TEA Region 10. The coaches experienced different games as if they were disabled to better comprehend the modifications and understand how to instruct. They were also provided a book and equipment to take back to campus.

“It was fun and we learned a whole lot of games that we already had been playing but more so be able to take it down to certain peoples levels,” Glenn said.

Evans admitted before the training that the coaching team was unsure how to modify activities to adhere to the life-skills demographic.

“Never did we think we could use a hula hoop for a simple basketball goal, or a ball of yarn to use as a shot put," Evans said. "We got so many game ideas, but not just that."

Glenn chimed in, “We learned a lot on how to think for those accommodations…Yeah, they showed us, but they taught us how to think.”

“We put ourselves in their shoes,” Evans added.

Before Partners in PE existed on campus, life-skill students were integrated into general education PE classes. Zandt noted that PE classes can have up to 50 students and the student body reduced from approximately 1,000 to 600 from the rezoning this year.

Robin Mallea is a life-skills teacher on campus and elaborated on some of the benefits for life-skill students.

“The students benefit because it is a smaller group and the activities are modified for their abilities,” Mallea explained. “We have more modified equipment and the fact that they are being mentored by someone their own age, they are going to listen more.”

Mallea has observed the life-skill students gain confidence and expand their friendship circles. Evans also compared the previous PE classes and said Partners in PE has a more positive and lively atmosphere.

On the first day of the program, the life-skill students seemed a bit overwhelmed, but Evans said, “After a few minutes and getting things going and structured like they are used to, they definitely all bought in.”

Since the activities are more centered toward the life-skill students, more kids are getting involved in the program, challenging themselves and staying more on task. The life-skill students are currently preparing for the track and field season learning warm-up drills and focusing on balance, strength and endurance.

Partners in PE takes place Fridays only and next year, the program will be implemented daily.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450