Students Provide Physical Education to Children with Autism

Laughter and squeals of delight echoed through the Mahoney Gymnasium recently as about 20 high school students raced each other on scooter boards, tossed balls through moving hula hoops and played basketball and hockey.

As they rotated from activity to activity, their coaches were physical education students in Palm Beach Atlantic University’s School of Education and Behavioral Studies.

A Palm Beach Atlantic University student tosses a ball to a high school student from Renaissance Learning Academy in the Mahoney Gymnasium. Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) is a private, accredited, Christ-centered college located in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
A Palm Beach Atlantic University student tosses a ball to a high school student from Renaissance Learning Academy in the Mahoney Gymnasium.

The young people, who all have autism spectrum disorders, attend Renaissance Learning Academy in West Palm Beach. This school year, PBA students have been volunteering at the charter high school twice a week as part of their adapted physical education class.

The college students typically would bring the equipment needed for the P.E. class to the academy: bowling pins, soccer goals, Frisbees and scooters, said Emily Bible, a senior majoring in dance and minoring in exercise science. Most of the activities took place outside the academy’s building.

But as the semester drew to a close, “they wanted to come and see our facility,” Bible said.

The PBA students said they were happy to host their new friends in the gym, which is located in the Greene Complex for Sports and Recreation. Several athletes from PBA’s soccer, baseball and lacrosse teams were among the student volunteers.

Nicole Morson, a junior majoring in communication and minoring in exercise science, has an older cousin with autism. She said the experience of working with the students has been fulfilling.

“Just seeing a change in them from the first day to now has been amazing,” she said. “It’s such a blessing to be able to work with them.”

As part of the curriculum, the students agreed to teach at least eight classes over the semester. Adjunct professor Jennifer Michael taught the course and supervised the activities.

Renaissance Learning Academy Executive Director Toby Honsberger said that his students, who range in age from 14 to 22, enjoyed having college students there who were close to their age. “Sometimes that holds more clout than even a teacher,” he said.

As a result of the partnership, several PBA students have expressed interested in working at the academy on a part-time basis, Honsberger said. Plans are in the works to develop an internship-type program for them, he said.

Vinny DeAguila, a junior who is majoring in physical education with a concentration in exercise science, said that he has enjoyed being able to put smiles on the students’ faces. “It’s priceless,” he said.