The following is a Q & A section with Mrs. Kasia Givenrod, an Adapted Physical Education Specialist from California.
The words that immediately come to mind while speaking with Kasia Givenrod aka Mrs. G is professionalism, passion, and knowledge. Mrs. G. believes in physical education as an instrument to create healthy individuals well after they leave the classroom. Read the interview below.
1. Tell us a little about yourself. (Your background, why you went into teaching, your teaching experience, where do you teach, grade level).
a. I am an Adapted Physical Education Specialist in Brea Olinda Unified School District in Brea, California. When I was at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona as a psychology major I was struggling to find my “why”. I wasn’t particularly drawn to anything in the field, and I was already a junior which meant it was crunch time. For one of my electives during my junior year, I decided to take the Introduction to Adapted Physical Education class. I was always athletic and drawn to sports, so physical education seemed like a good fit. Also, I had been volunteering at a camp for adults and children with developmental disabilities (now called RAD Camp) since I was 17 and felt like that was where my passion was, so I figured Adapted PE might be the perfect fit for me. After one day in the intro class with Dr. Perky Vetter as my professor (who still continues to be my mentor), I was hooked and never looked back. I completed my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and then stayed at Cal Poly Pomona for my General Physical Education Credential and my Adapted Physical Education Specialist Credential. Years later I also went back to Cal Poly Pomona for my Masters of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Adapted Physical Education.
b. I just completed my 12th year of teaching in Brea Olinda Unified School District. My first 6 years were spent teaching general physical education at the junior high level before switching over to being the only Adapted Physical Education Specialist in the district. Since I am the only Adapted PE teacher, I teach students in preschool all the way up to seniors in high school (traveling to 4 or 5 schools a day). Over the past two years, I have also started teaching Unified PE (a Special Olympics program) at my junior high and high school. Unified PE is an inclusive program where students of all abilities participate in the physical education class together, form friendships and foster a more inclusive culture on campus. General education students serve as mentor coaches to my Adapted PE students and help coach, motivate and cheer them on as they practice their skills together. I also serve as a Unified Sports (a Special Olympics program) coach at my high school each year. Unified Sports is similar to the philosophy of the Unified PE program, but instead of being in a physical education class together, the students are playing on a sports team together.
2. What is your teaching philosophy?
a. My teaching philosophy is that it’s all about what you CAN do, not about what you can’t do. I feel that all students are capable of participating in a physical education class and curriculum, it’s my job to get creative and make modifications and adapt things to make them successful. I don’t ever let a student tell me that can’t do something; they just can’t do it yet. The growth mindset and inclusion approach are very much in line with my own teaching philosophy. Inclusion has become more of a focus in my teaching approach, which is why I wanted to start the Unified PE and Unified Sports programs at my secondary schools. Inclusion does not just benefit the students with disabilities, it also greatly benefits the general education students, staff and teachers.
3. What are the components of a quality physical education program?
a. I think that one component of a quality physical education program is accessibility. Physical education is not meant for only the elite athletes, which means that students with a variety of skill levels should be able to participate and be successful; but that only happens if the teacher is engaged, really gets to know their students and thinks outside the box. I am lucky enough to work with many teachers who fit that description every day.
b. Another component of a quality physical education program is sustainability. The skills and abilities the students learn in a PE class should be able to be sustained throughout their lives, in particular, lifelong fitness skills that will help them stay active and healthy when they are beyond the age of having a PE class.
c. I feel that another component of a quality physical education program is collaboration. When you have a team of physical educators who work well together, an admin team who supports them, a district who supports the changes and growth the team wants to make and when they all use the experts and specialists around them to best support their students, the program is more successful.
d. Finally, I feel that for a quality physical education program to exist professional growth must always be in place. Teachers should be always learning, never satisfied with status-quo, and striving to be the best for their students.
4. What do you hope your students gain or learn from your physical education program?
a. My hope is always that my students will gain the knowledge and skills to outgrow being in my program. Students are in my class due to (a) having a significant gross motor delay or (b) not being able to safely or successfully participate in a general physical education program. I strive to teach my students the skills (gross motor, behavioral, or social) that will help them succeed in a gross motor environment. For each student the focus is different; some is fitness, some learning how to appropriately behave in a gross motor setting, some basic sports skills. No matter what the learning goals, helping them be able to participate in a physical education class with their typical peers is always my main goal. For the students who stay with me their entire school career, my goal is to provide them the tools to stay healthy and active when they leave my class.
5. What does inclusion means to you? How do you promote inclusion within your program?
a. Inclusion means students of all ability levels participating in class together. It’s a very simple explanation but really, that’s all you need. If you provide the opportunities for students of all abilities to learn together, they will learn much more than the content. They will learn more about themselves and others than one could imagine.
b. Inclusion can look different depending on the age level or the setting, but I have tried to start up some inclusion opportunities for my students in Brea. At one of my elementary schools, Fanning Elementary, I helped start a program called Falcon Friends which is a peer buddy playgroup at recess. Students in the general education classes sign up to be buddies to the students in the mod-severe special education class and they play together on Fridays. The amazing thing about Falcon Friends is seeing the students playing together, even when it’s not a Friday!
c. At my junior high and high school, I have started Unified PE. At Brea Junior High, the students sign up for the class as an elective and at Brea Olinda High School they can take the class for elective or PE credit. The students serve as mentor coaches and while they are in the class they learn leadership skills, mentorship skills, communication skills and there is also an ability awareness unit where students learn about various disabilities. The Unified PE class has quickly become one of my favorite parts of teaching. Seeing the students come together, form friendships and see them all grow and change is inspiring. I have students who start out very shy come completely out of their shell by the end of the semester. I have students who spend nights playing video games online with their buddy and make phone calls to each other after school or on weekends. I have had general ed students tell me they want to become a special education teacher after their experiences in Unified PE. These are experiences that wouldn’t happen if the students were kept separate from each other. Inclusion promotes growth, for everyone!
d. At my high school, I serve as a Unified Sports coach. The Unified Sports program is amazing! We have done soccer, basketball, and volleyball and the teams are ½ students with disabilities and ½ typical peers. They practice for a month or so and then we play a game during lunch against another school that has the same program. The game is one of my favorite days of the school year. They gym is packed with students (I mean packed), cheerleaders are cheering, the band is playing, trainers are ready with medical support, and the announcers are calling the game. Hearing a packed gym with the student body cheering for the students on the court fills everyone with so much joy and excitement and that moment, in my opinion, is the best example of inclusion. The students with disabilities feel like a part of the school culture and school spirit; the general education students feel connected to students they otherwise would have never known and grow to be more accepting and inclusive in their own experiences.