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Students help their disabled peers in gym class

Posted at 12:40 PM, May 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-31 12:52:16-04

Elizabeth Smorol is a physical education teacher at Lockport High School. She teaches students with and without disabilities.

Smorol has two classes with nearly 15 students with different disabilities and special needs. She says the challenge is giving those students the attention they need.

"Most of the time you have to teach to the child with the most severe need," said Smorol. "Most of the time the kids that are high functioning would get lost in the shuffle."

Smorol said she tried playing games that the entire class could do together but for some students the games weren't challenging enough. After developing a comprehensive plan Smorol launched "Physical Education Leadership" two years ago.

"It's because I was one teacher working with 15 kids, sometimes more by myself," said Smorol. "I was asking students to come in and volunteer during their free periods to help in the class. Some would come out of lunch some would give up their study hall."

The program pairs one student with a disability and one without a disability in gym class. Together they take part in different activities.

Smorol then approached the school board with her idea allowing both students to take class together for credit.

"That way they're not giving up their free time," said Smorol.

Breonna Bailey who's now a senior has been helping Mrs. Smorol with the program since she was a freshman. Bailey was happy to see Smorol put her plan into action.

"I think it's a great opportunity for both us, the leaders, and the kids themselves. It's great hands-on experience and teaches them the skills they need," said Bailey. "I've been with her through the entire program and it's great to see how much it's evolved."

Each pair is given a different activity each gym class. They play everything from catch, to basketball, to hockey, to Frisbee - you name it.

"There were a couple of kids that were in my regular gym class and it just didn't seem fair because they couldn't keep up with the regular kids," said Sean Denniston who's Mrs. Smorol's son.

"Often times they're put into an art class or music class but with physical education they're still kind of segregated," said Smorol. "Now they're meeting other people, helping each other out and making new relationships."

Smorol says the program has students not only bonding in her class but outside of it as well.

"To actually see it in progress and still growing is a good feeling, just to see the smiles on these kids faces," said Smorol.

According to Smorol, Lockport High is the only school in western New York with the program.