Water Works

by Lyndsi Lewis

LSU Kinesiology Service-Learning Class Works With Local Kids on Water Safety

Students in LSU College of Education Assistant Professor Wanda Hargroder's service learning course, "Introducing Physical Education for Persons with Disabilities," worked with students from Arlington Preparatory Academy in November in the University Recreational Center, or UREC, swimming pool.

The primary purpose of this instruction period was to help students with autism and development and learning disabilities become comfortable in the water and introduce them to basic skills and water safety.

"My goal is for my students to leave the experience and this class with a much better understanding of and appreciation for our disabled population in society," Hargroder said.

Laurie Braden, director of university recreation, said this College of Education class marked the first of a new series of community outreach initiatives planned and facilitated by the UREC.

"It's very important for all different departments within the institution to work together to promote LSU to the broader community other than just as an institution of higher education," said Braden. "This is a conglomeration of an academic unit and a non-academic unit coming together to give back to the community in a way that neither of us would be able to do alone.

"This is the first step in an intentional outreach effort from our department to work with other departments to bring in community members and academic classes as a service learning venue. Our successes are tied together, so the more we can do things like this, the better and stronger we are as an institution."

LSU students included health and P.E. junior Ashleigh Kuhn of Nederland, Texas, who interacted with disabled students from Arlington through a combination of water-related play and light physical therapy. Kuhn said that the interaction with Arlington's students has been the most rewarding aspect of the course.

"It's how you feel when you're working with these kids," Kuhn explained. "You don't take anything for granted, and you really have fun with them. It just really makes you think about life and focus on what's important."

Arlington students were encouraged to participate in basic swim skills activities such as floating, holding their breath under water and kicking their feet in order to propel them through the water. A large group of Arlington's parents, educators and their school principal, Margot Forbes, were on hand. Forbes, who happily sat poolside interacting with her students, felt that the day's activities were simply the fruition of a mutually beneficial relationship.

"LSU is close to our school and the partnership between this class and my special education kids has been phenomenal," Forbes said. "It's a win-win situation. The kids look forward to the LSU students, and the LSU students look forward to coming to our school. It's just a partnership that works."

Forbes felt that the day's biggest accomplishment was the involvement of her students' parents, many of whom, like Sharon Riley of Baton Rouge, attended the class. She watched in delight as her son, Kevin, experienced the water and became friends with Hargroder's students.

"I'm glad that there are people out there that are still willing to work with the disabled," Riley said. "This partnership with LSU means a lot because there are people out there who do act prejudiced and don't want to be bothered with those with disabilities."

The class allowed Arlington physical education instructors to offer an alternative form of exercise that their students may not have received otherwise and addressed the social and physical needs of students with disabilities.

Molly Orr, inclusive recreation coordinator of The Arc Baton Rouge, assisted students in the service learning activity. The Arc Baton Rouge strives to improve the quality of life for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families through advocacy, services and support. As a former student in Hargroder's service-learning classes, Orr described the activities as familiar and close to her heart.

"There are a lot of benefits for individuals without disabilities to interact with those who do have disabilities," Orr said.

"We all like to get in the water and play and have fun and hang out with friends," she added. "Yes, there are some differences, but overall, we really aren't that different. There's a whole social aspect to this program aside from water safety."

Kuhn says that working directly with students with disabilities rather than simply with her peers definitely proved beneficial.

"We've done this class with each other, and it really was not the same," she said. "Working with Arlington has been so much better, and I think we wouldn't have gotten the same type of experience if we hadn't worked with these kids."

Rachel Laurent, an economics senior from Houma, concurred, saying that this is her favorite course that she has taken at LSU.

"This class allows me to do what I am passionate about – trying to make the lives of those with disabilities better," said Laurent. "These kids have unconditional love and all they want is for you to be their friend. Every time I interact with them, it makes my day better."

Laurent, a volunteer with the Special Olympics and treasurer of the LSU chapter of Best Buddies, believes that service learning classes are imperative for students who want to be well-rounded in any field.

"It is important for students to get out in the community and out of their comfort zones," she said. "So many lessons can be taught by simply interacting with these kids."

"I think these programs are wonderful," said Gregory Black, adaptive physical education teacher at Arlington and LSU kinesiology alum. "If you were to ask any teacher, they will tell you that practicum like this is always beneficial."

Black consistently works closely with LSU students in sports-related activities. The LSU students interact as teammates for various sports that are part of Arlington's physical education curriculum.

"The LSU students come in and they are just naturally teacher oriented. It turns out to be a win-win for the children and the teachers as well because we enjoy having them," he said.

As she watched her students' ecstatic reactions to the water and the attention of their LSU peers, Forbes summed up the day's purpose.

"Some students can go their whole lives without even interacting with a child that has a disability and I like that Dr. Hargroder's class embraces ESS [Exceptional Student Services] children," Forbes said. "If you've touched the life of one of these exceptional students, you won't forget it… and they won't forget it either."

Service-learning classes such as Hargroder's are supported through LSU's Center for Community Engagement, Learning and Leadership, or CCELL. CCELL promotes community engagement by serving as a clearinghouse for service-learning pedagogy and community partnerships; promotes learning by informing and helping to coordinate planning, research, pedagogy, and assessment associated with service-learning and other innovative student learning initiatives; and develops student leadership skills by facilitating service-learning and related student initiatives. For more information on CCELL, visit www.ccell.lsu.edu.

Through excellence in teaching, learning, discovery, and engagement, the Department of Kinesiology advances the understanding of physical activity, sport and health to optimize the quality of life for diverse populations. For more information on the LSU College of Education Department of Kinesiology, visitwww.lsu.edu/kinesiology.

Photos by Jim Zietz/University Relations