Class helps disabled students

Ryan Haidet

Leisure studies major and Kent State football player Prishod Koonce helps Kent Roosevelt High School special needs student Michael Hinkle lift weights Nov. 4 at the gym annex. High school students come to Kent State and are paired with Kent State student

Credit: Jason Hall

Every Friday morning, students with disabilities from Theodore Roosevelt High School come to Kent State to exercise and socialize with students from the university.

The program, “Millennium Force,” started in 1999 to give students with disabilities from RHS the opportunity to interact with college students and some of their fellow classmates. This year, every student has autism.

From lifting weights, to playing basketball, hitting a beach ball with racquets and doing basic exercises, Kent State students, along with other RHS students interested in the field of recreational therapy, exercise and socialize with the students who have autism.

Ellen Pochedley, who has been a special education teacher for 20 years, is the teacher of five students with autism at RHS. She said she thinks the students benefit from and enjoy this program.

“The activities they do are fun,” Pochedley said. “It’s a positive environment for them to work with their peers.”

Pochedley said this program is also beneficial to the students’ parents.

“We are able to communicate with parents about the recreational activities and the progress their child is making,” Pochedley said. “We mention several things that the students are good at doing and things that could be improved.”

Pochedley said that this program also teaches the students with autism social and fitness skills.

“This helps the children with their socialization and communication as well as helping them realize the things in fitness that they are successful with,” Pochedley said.

This class takes place in the Gym Annex, and Pochedley said she is thankful to those at Kent State who support this program.

“The support that’s come from the university has made this possible,” Pochedley said. “Kent State provides the facilities and the students.”

Since its creation, “Millennium Force” has included children with all types of disabilities. This is the first year, however, that all of the students have the same disability.

“We have to adapt to the student’s needs,” Pochedley said. “Every year those needs change.”

This program also benefits students from Kent State and RHS who are interested in the field of recreational therapy.

“This helps students learn how to work in the field and that clients are people too,” said Catie Milton, a career and technical education instructor at RHS.

Milton brings her students from RHS who are interested in this field along for the program, which she said teaches her students the importance of a certain aspect in the field – confidentiality.

“We talk about confidentiality in class, but here we have to apply it,” Milton said.

Milton said that as the program progresses throughout the year, she sees her students grow and adapt.

“Some of the students that participate in the program start out tentative,” Milton said. “But by the end of the year, they have so much more confidence.”

This program is also significant and important to some Kent State students.

“I’m impressed with the way the high school and college students work together so the students (with autism) can get the best recreational experience,” said Brie King, a graduate assistant in therapeutic recreation. King is in charge of leading the program this year.

This is King’s second semester participating in this program, and she said she will continue with it next semester.

King said she appreciates the volunteers who have come forward.

“Some KSU students volunteer their time for the program,” King said. “They help plan activities and provide role models for all of the high school students who come each week.”

King said to take on a role in a program like this takes certain qualities.

“You need to be proactive and make sure you give respect as you ask for respect,” King said.

Other Kent State students are involved with this program for community service hours.

“I am required to do 20 hours of community service so I chose this,” said Lynsey Worrell, a senior recreation management major.

Worrell has never worked with people who are autistic before, and she is assigned to work with one specific student during this program.

“I work with Christopher Powell each Friday,” Worrell said. “He is a strong individual.”

She said that she hopes to continue volunteering for this even after her community service hours are fulfilled.

A reason Worrell has taken on this project can be seen in what she aspires to for the future.

“I want to run a camp for children with disabilities,” Worrell said. “I want this camp to be open to every child with any disability.”

Worrell said that people need to keep a few things in mind when working with people with autism, too.

“Autistic people have feelings and emotions,” she said. “They just have more challenges that they have to face on a regular basis.”

Along with those participating, there were also observers who are studying this subject at the program last Friday.

“We want to look for things that cause behaviors and get an idea of how to address behavior,” said Mary Ann Devine, associate professor in therapeutic recreation. “For example, what was happening before they were smiling? We want to watch for behaviors we might want to see more of.”

The students from one of Devine’s classes were observing the program for their class.

“This is the first time we are observing,” Devine said. “We will do this twice.”

One of Devine’s students noticed adaptation strategies while observing.

“One of the students with autism was hitting the ball too hard in the air, so they (the students helping) adapted by hitting the ball on the floor,” Melissa Moore, a senior recreational therapy major said.

Moore said she thinks this program is something good for these students with autism to participate in.

“It gives them other things to do with their time,” Moore said. “I’ve worked with autistic people before, and they’re just like anybody else.”

Contact health reporter Ryan Haidet at [email protected].