‘An amazing thing’: New class, new bonds at Thornapple Kellogg

Barry County

MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Not everyone can keep up with the running and sprinting that comes with a traditional gym class; that’s where Thornapple Kellogg High School’s adaptive physical education class comes in.

“These are games and lifelong activities that they can play… they fit their needs more and I think that’s why we’re able to be successful and why they’re so excited to be in here every day,” explained special education instructor Ryan Fletke, who leads the class.

The excitement was palpable in the class during News 8’s visit. Students with cognitive impairments smiled and laughed as they ran down the court in a game of sharks and minnows.

General education students from the school’s LINKS program offer peer-to-peer support for the class members with special needs. Keanna Dudik is a “link” who helps lead the class.

“You can interact with the students on a more high level,” she said.

She talked about spending time with another student, Wynn Repins, who always has a smile on his face and loves to play basketball.

“(He’s) always energetic, he loves to talk, which is awesome. You can learn new things about him each new day,” she said.

Keanna has also seen a change in all of the students since they started the new curriculum.

“You can tell how they were in the beginning of the year — more shy and quiet. And now, so many of them are outgoing, they interact with each other, they met new friends,” she said.

Fletke has also seen the students take ownership of the group. He says they feel like the class belongs to them, rather than feeling as though they were sitting in on someone else’s class.

“What I’ve also really seen is the impact outside the classroom, in the hallways. And the friendship that these kids have built with their linkers has really been an amazing thing for us,” he added.

thornapple kellogg adaptive pe
Adaptive physical education at Thornapple Kellogg. (October 2019)

The students often go outside to feel the track and grass under their feet. They play games like cornhole or ladder ball after a warmup run around the gym. Not everyone can make it the full length of the gym without help, but Fletke says the important thing is that they get moving, get their blood flowing, and learn skills they’ll be able to use the rest of their lives.

Based on its inaugural success, instructors plan to keep the adaptive physical education class as part of the curriculum next year.

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