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Lavay Continues Proud Tradition Of Adapted PE Teacher Training

Published: August 15, 2013

Roughly four decades ago, it wasn’t unusual for students with disabilities not to attend school. If they did, however, when it was time for physical education class they were routinely grouped with the rest of the student population. Sometimes it worked out, but when it didn’t, they found themselves relegated to spectator status.

That began to change in 1975 with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was initially called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to children with disabilities. Any child identified with one of 14 disabilities receives not only special education for academics, but physical education as well. Also, IDEA provides federal grants for universities to support specialized training of individuals looking to teach physical education to those with disabilities.

“In the 1970s, a lot of people thought of physical education as a luxury for children with disabilities. There were even some who questioned if children with disabilities could successfully participate in physical education classes,” said Barry Lavay, a professor in CSULB’s Department of Kinesiology where he has taught since 1988. “The law was a directive that every child with a disability would receive physical education, so the passage of that law had a huge impact on physical education teacher training and the quality of the services children with disabilities received.

“It’s hard to believe that in our lifetime people’s attitudes toward persons with disabilities have changed so dramatically,” added Lavay, whose primary responsibility at CSULB is the training of students who plan to teach physical education to individuals with disabilities.

IDEA’s passage was seen as a great victory for its proponents, but then there was the matter of how to actually provide proper physical education instruction for children with disabilities. That, in turn, had a direct and immediate impact on the way university students who were studying physical education and adapted physical education (APE) were trained.

Lavay acknowledges former Health and Human Services’ Associate Dean William “Andy” Sinclair and former assistant professor of kinesiology Peggy Lasko as keys to the growth of the APE program at CSULB, and he credits former Professor Dan Arnheim with being a real pioneer in the field.

“In 1969, Dan Arnheim began the first after-school program west of the Mississippi for children with disabilities,” said Lavay, “while Andy Sinclair started our summer camp in 1970 (Camp Nugget). CSULB was the first program in California to have a credential in APE, so we have this really rich history of always having adapted physical education, even before the passage of the law.” Lavay, now the director of the APE program, the After School Adapted Physical-activity Program (ASAPP) and Camp Nugget, estimates that since their inception in 1970, more than 3,000 youth with disabilities have participated.

According to Lavay, only 13 states have some type of APE teaching credential and California provides what is considered by many to have the most comprehensive APE coursework requirements in the nation. Only 10 CSU institutions provide an APE teaching credential which qualifies individuals to teach special needs students precluded from participating in general physical education programs.

“The program is 27 additional units and is attached to the student’s single subject physical education teaching credential, so it’s a commitment by the students,” said Lavay, who teaches the bulk of the coursework at CSULB. “It’s also a commitment by the department at a university to specialize in this kind of program.”

Carrying some of the teaching load is Lori Reich, who earned her master’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in APE in 2007 and her Ed.D. in 2012, both from CSULB. She has been an instructor in the Kinesiology Department since 2007, taught APE courses and serves as the assistant director of the summer camp.

“Along with rigorous coursework, the CSULB Adapted Physical Education Program provides students substantial opportunities to work hands-on with children with disabilities both on-site and locally in public schools,” said Reich. “This practical experience is essential for future success in the field. Students are also required to write and implement a behavior management plan on an assigned child, which can be an invaluable skill for them when they encounter behavior issues as future teachers.”

“Coursework begins with the introduction of essential teaching fundamentals and strategies that logically build on one another as the coursework ensues,” said Tim Falco, who earned a B.A. in APE from CSULB in 2012 and is a graduate student in the credential program working toward his secondary and APE certifications. “We are given countless opportunities to observe public school teachers and work hands-on with students of all ages with various disabilities.”

“The great thing about the Adapted Physical Education program is the hands-on experience students receive through fieldwork and the After School Adapted Physical-activity Program (ASAPP),” said Brianna Moshenko, who earned her B.A. in APE from CSULB in 2012 and is a graduate student in the single subject credential program for APE. “When we work one-on-one with our assigned child or teach a group lesson, we get the opportunity to apply the information and strategies we learned during lecture. The experiences students receive from ASAPP prepare us for our career, especially when it comes to lesson planning, assessing students and writing IEPs (Individualized Education Plans).”

According to Lavay, that’s one of the great strengths of CSULB’s program.

“I can lecture students about theory and best evidence-based practices they need to implement in their teaching or how to modify equipment or how to write an IEP,” he said, “but give them a child to work with and the theory comes to life. Many of my assignments are designed so they need to work with a child with a disability or a group of children.”

Gabe Bartalos Work
Barry Lavay (r) observes his students as they work with a child.

Lavay has also served since 1988 as the coordinator for the State Adapted Physical Education Added Authorization Credential Program, where more than 350 CSULB students have received this authorization and have gone on to teach APE to school children with disabilities primarily throughout California.

“Our students are very marketable because when teaching children with disabilities, there are always jobs available,” he noted. “We have this history of having, even in tough economic times, a 95-to-100 percent placement. That’s a great recruiting tool, but more importantly, I want individuals who are passionate and committed because this is not just a job, it’s a career.

“My goal is that our students graduate from the program well prepared with the skills necessary to be an effective APE teacher and so that districts will want to hire them,” he added. “Probably the most rewarding thing aspect of my position is when I attend a conference and I visit with a former student who is now teaching APE and making a difference and I think that maybe, in some small way I had some influence on them.”

“The APE program molded and prepared me immensely,” said Megan Fuji Kowai, who works at Frances Blend Elementary School in Los Angeles, a special education center for the blind and visually impaired. “I feel I can take on all responsibilities because of my training from my undergraduate work. I am truly thankful that I had the opportunity to study under a team of staff who are passionate and up to date for what we do.”

“I feel that the APE program at CSULB is a solid foundation for future APE professionals,” said Joyce Sakai, who teaches at Stanford Middle School in Long Beach, has been an APE teacher for eight years and has collaborated with CSULB’s APE program as a fieldwork supervisor and master teacher her entire career. “It combines both theory and real-life experiences for current students and allows them to be exposed to a wide variety of programs and student populations. I also appreciate Dr. Lavay’s willingness to listen to advice from current professionals on ways to better prepare his students. By embedding current practices into the program, students can begin practicing and establishing good habits during their beginning stages of learning before they are out teaching themselves.”

Lavay has also seen numerous changes since the law passed in 1975, not only in the way students are taught, but the way those with disabilities are viewed.

“What changed tremendously are peoples’ attitudes towards individuals with disabilities,” he said. “I think in the 1970s a lot of people just assumed children with disabilities couldn’t do anything. One of the things I really like about APE and sport is that it’s visual. For example, I can take a person who doesn’t know much about people with disabilities and show them an elite Paralympic athlete and when they see that it can have a huge effect; it can change their attitude toward people with disabilities and they may no longer feel sorry for them. Persons with disabilities don’t need our pity, but rather they need an opportunity to participate.”

Lavay also points to peer-tutor programs where a nondisabled child assists a child with a disability, who gets hands-on experience and a lot of one-on-one instruction.

“In this type of program the child without disabilities is learning empathy, patience, how to task analyze and break down a skill,” said Lavay. “If you really want to determine if you understand a skill, try teaching it. If you can teach it then you really know a skill.”

Recently, technologies such as iPads have emerged into the mainstream when it comes to APE instruction, but there’s nothing like real teaching.

“Good teaching is good teaching and that will never change,” said Lavay. “I also think a lot of times it’s the attitude of a teacher. Are they positive towards kids’ with disabilities and willing to jump right in and work hard? That’s what I look for in university students; if they have that, then I can work around the other stuff. I can teach them all the theory and I can teach them different strategies they will need.

“There are some strategies like task analysis (i.e., breaking down skills), cueing and making modifications,” he added. “Those things haven’t changed tremendously. The technology, however, has really changed. With an iPad you can provide visuals to the children with disabilities right there on the spot; APE teachers can track data while working with a child, where it used to be paper and pencil. It can be a helpful tool, but I don’t want our students to get so hung up on technology. Whether you have an iPad or use paper and pencil you still need to have effective teaching and management skills and be able to collaborate with other professionals.”

“The APE program at CSULB really taught us how to teach,” said Nancy Martin, who is in her second year teaching in the Huntington Beach Union High School District. “I felt far better prepared than many of my non-APE and non-PE peers during the credential program…many students had never had the chance to teach yet. The APE program under Dr. Lavay’s guidance really emphasized the all-important behavior management and social interaction portion of teaching that has been invaluable in my current teaching position.”