Making an Impact: Special education schools get new support

Making an Impact: Special education schools get new support

Amelia Sherman | May 8, 2023

Exciting news coming from UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind, where seven special education schools and career transition centers in LAUSD have just received new program support! This initiative, coined the Special Education Project, provided equipment repairs, new equipment, specialized accessories, and Paralympian visits to each school. 

The aim of the Special Education Project was to further promote physical health and mental wellbeing by catering to the specific needs of the population of students at each school.  This project was highly individualized at each school site to ensure that teachers had the right resources they needed to get students moving.

LAUSD special education schools and career transition centers provide a unique learning experience for students with disabilities. The schools we supported in this initiative had fitness centers from SBSM dating back to 2005.

The schools are:

  • Alfonzo B. Perez Career and Transition Center (2015)
  • Benjamin Banneker Career and Transition Center (2007)
  • Charles Leroy Lowman Special Education and Career Transition Center (2007)
  • Diane S. Leichman Career Preparatory and Transition Center (2006)
  • Ernest P. Willenberg Career and Transition Center (2005)
  • Joseph Pomeroy Widney Career Preparatory and Transition Center (2008)
  • Sophia T. Salvin Special Education (2013)

Each of the schools has at least one adapted PE (APE) teacher. APE teachers are physical education teachers whose specialized training allows them to provide appropriate and therapeutic exercises to students with disabilities.

Ms. Angela Banuelos from Lowman Special Education Center shared, “Our students fight big battles every day, each one with their unique abilities, unique strengths and unique challenges.  The Adapted Physical Education program at Lowman Special Education Center & Career and Transition Center is fortunate to have received equipment that will allow our superheroes to flourish, grow, learn, and have fun!”

In this project, the APE teachers at each school were given the opportunity to select equipment that is tailored to meet the unique needs of their students. Allowing APE teachers to make their own selection of equipment ensured that each school can accommodate a variety of abilities and disabilities, and that all students can benefit from the fitness programs.

“Their individual needs will be targeted with the equipment received from UCLA. We received [a variety of specialized equipment], which encourages cooperation, taking turns, makes adapted PE fun, and improves gross motor skills.” said Banuelos

For example, one piece of specialized equipment that teachers selected was an InReach Bell Ball. This hollow foam ball has jingle bells in the center, allowing students with visual impairments to track the ball based on its sound or students on the autism spectrum to stay focused on the activity. Many schools selected the Matrix KrankCycle, a hand ergometer. With the seat removed, students who use wheelchairs can roll up to the machine and work out their arms at a level that is comfortable for them.

Aside from the physical upgrades, each school was paired with a Paralympian mentor from our partners at Ready Set Gold! for a three-visit mentorship program. Two Paralympians worked with us on this project, Cody Jones, a javelin thrower for the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team and Natália Mayara, a wheelchair tennis player from Brazil.

The first visit was a school-wide assembly where the Paralympians went between classrooms to introduce themselves, talk about their career, disability, and their goals. During the second and third visits, the Paralympians partnered with the APE teachers in their classrooms to work one-on-one with students. These visits focused around each athletes’ sport and a social emotional learning topic such as growth mindset, self-efficacy, self-management, or social awareness.

Cody Jones presenting to a group of students
Cody Jones presenting to a group of students at Perez Career Transition Center

“I'm honored to be a part of this project with Sound Body Sound Mind,” says Cody Jones. “I have shared my story and sport with thousands of students, but there was an extra sense of excitement and determination with these students. They were so willing to listen, learn, and try their best at a new sport. I never once heard them talk about disability as a bad thing or an excuse, but as a part of their life that makes them who they are. As an athlete with a disability myself, I love being around people like that!”

Students practice throwing adaptive javelins with Paralympian Cody Jones
Students at Leichman Career Preparatory and Transition Center practicing throwing adaptive javelins.

This support is vital in helping teachers and staff at special education schools and career transition centers develop creative and effective fitness programs that will help their students achieve their health and fitness goals. The new and improved fitness centers will be a valuable resource for teachers, students, and their families, creating a positive and inclusive learning environment for years to come.