Adapted PE: Hard work and friendships


Alyssa Karner

A high school freshman girl with pink sneakers and a long blonde braid counts aloud in West Ottawa’s auxiliary gym, “one, two, three…, ten!” All the students sit around her in a circle and reach forward, stretching their legs. 

   One student next to her says, “Keep it up, Josie!” and she continues leading the class in counting, this time louder and more confident than the last. Encouragement from classmates permeates the room. No one can tell this girl has struggled with speech her entire life. 

   After the class finishes stretching, a student with a knee brace and a restricted arm is seen with a competitive look in his eyes. He carefully sits down on the black pull-out mat and folds his arms over his chest, ready to battle his classmates in a sit-up contest. Instructor Tim DeForest yells “Go!” and he drives his body forward, cranking out sit up after sit up. In 50 seconds, he has completed 70 sit-ups, no excuses.  

   Next on the agenda is skill work. A different student hobbles out of his wheelchair and towards a basketball hoop. Within a minute, he has swished three shots in a row. 

   Ten minutes do not go by in the West Ottawa Adapted Physical Education class without one of these mini-miracles. The students in this class illustrate positivity, strength, and hard work in the face of adversity each day. 

   The Adapted PE class consists of six LINKS who support the students in various ways throughout the class. The WO LINKS program is a peer-to-peer program that focuses on assisting special needs students. As a LINK in this class, I can agree first hand of the hard work they illustrate daily. 

   The supported students “give their all…whatever that all might be for them…99% of the time. Whether it be trying to catch a ball with one hand, jogging the track with a brace on their leg, or battling their LINK in a sit-up contest, they outwork the best of us,” DeForest said.

   When it comes to this Adapted PE class, there are multiple components that contribute to the class and a hard-working attitude is only the beginning. 

   One day I walked into the LINKS classroom during lunch to pick up a graduation cord. I was surprised when one of the students jumped out of their chair and said, “Congratulations Alyssa!!!” They all started cheering and clapping. I don’t know why I was surprised by their encouragement, for I have never met a more positive group of people. I left that classroom with both my graduation cord in hand and a feeling that I wanted to share. Each day, I leave the Adapted PE class with an inspiration to be more positive. 

   The Adapted PE classroom radiates positivity because of DeForest. “Mr. DeForest works really hard to keep the tone positive, even on tough days. He takes time to call each student by name to engage them and use them as an example of good athletes,” instructional assistant Kerry Bos said. 

   “I am a very positive person and a huge encourager. I always tell my students I may not be the best teacher in the school, but no one is going to out cheer and out encourage me. My LINKS seem to take on this challenge and very soon we have a full gym full of the most positive, encouraging people around. It is pretty special to be part of,” DeForest said. 

   Watching Deforest and Bos interact with the students is a blessing. I have watched students go from crying from a basketball to the head to laughing seconds later over DeForest pretending to be asleep. Between all the amazing people in the class, positivity swirls its way around the classroom, preventing frowns from staying too long. 

   However, all the positivity would not be present without the core of what holds this class together: the relationships. 

   Sr. LINK Abby Walton said, “There are a lot of aspects that make the Adapted PE class so special. But to me, the most important one is the relationships. There is so much purity and honesty that comes with the relationships between all the students. Everyone has different relationships with each other, but at the end of the day, we are all like a big family.”

   On the first day of class, DeForest told the LINKS their main job is to be a great friend and really get to know each student. The LINKS take this instruction very seriously, making it a priority to talk to each student individually. 

   DeForest said, “One of the neatest parts of the class is watching how closely and deeply my students and my links bond. I am not exactly sure of the reason, but I sit back and enjoy watching extremely tight bonds being made and deep friendships formed every semester. It is just awesome to witness. The links are there to support the students, but the students support the links and give back to them in countless ways as well.” 

   Since there aren’t as many academic obligations involved with a gym class, the LINKS and teachers can focus on creating relationships with the students. Throwing a ball together allows for inside jokes, jump scares, and shared excitement. A great recipe for friendship.  

   “When LINKS play catch or shoot hoops with a student, both students get a chance to show their skills and use sports to build a history together. That carries over to elbow bumps or chatting in the hallways or connecting on social media. I love to watch our students and LINKS encourage, push, or even tease each other. In addition to improving athletic abilities and building confidence, real friendships are happening,” Bos said.

   A solid relationship between the LINKS and students allows the LINKS to push the students to be their best athletically. “When LINKS say words of encouragement, run laps, stretch, or participate in sit-up challenges, our students try harder, dig deeper, and ultimately improve their athletic abilities. In our class, building self-confidence and having fun while being active are goals that are as important as relationship building,” Bos said. 

   Most of the students have an innate willingness to work hard, but the LINKS are always there to encourage and challenge the students when needed. Therefore, there is real progress in skills and fitness made throughout the year. 

   Fr. Isaac Wright is one student who speaks highly of his relationships with his LINKS. Wright said, “Everyone of the LINKS makes me feel really good. I really like every LINK in this class. They encourage me by telling me I can do it, and then I know I can do it.”

   However, as a LINK in this class, I feel Wright encouraging me just as often. When it is my turn to bat in one of our baseball games, I hear Wright say, “You got it, Alyssa!” When I challenge a student in a sit-up contest, the class cheers me on. Most importantly though, any time I see and interact with a student outside of the classroom, I always leave smiling and in a better mood. 

   Friendship goes both ways, “I am there to help students, but they also help me, which is what friends do for each other,” Walton said. The friendships and relationships are everything in this class. 

   The LINKS don’t just help a student throw a ball, they know about the student’s family and ask how they are doing each day. The teachers don’t just teach basketball shooting form, they prioritize making each student feel special for their own unique talents. The students don’t just go through the motions of a mundane day, they push themselves athletically with a smile on their face, inspiring everyone around them to work a little harder, be a little more positive, and love a little more.