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Gym class ‘unified’ at Duluth East High School

“Unified” physical education classes combine sports lessons for general education and special education students who might not otherwise meet at school.

students participating in physical education class
Peter Wood, right, a Duluth East senior, laughs while warming up with fellow student Brooke Linge during a unified physical education class combining general education and special education students.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Colbin Moen strode off the bus Wednesday ready to clean East High School.

The senior, wearing a plastic mask and zooming around the school’s gym on a small Ezyroller scooter, and calling himself "Mysterious Waspface," scooped up bits of trash with a plush starfish in one hand and a dust pan in the other during gym class on Wednesday.

kid in mask with dustpan sitting down
Senior Colbin Moen, dressed as "Mysterious Waspface," rides an Ezyroller.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“I just like to keep things clean my way,” Moen explained. Paraprofessional Mike Hillman said that gym class is probably the best time for social interaction in a given school day.

Moen is one of several dozen Greyhounds who work up a sweat at daily “unified” physical education classes that combine sports lessons for general education and special education students who might not otherwise meet at school. East staff organized a sampling of unified offerings for “Live Unified Day” on Wednesday, and Mayor Emily Larson visited that afternoon with a formal proclamation marking the day.

students participating in physical education class
Sophomore Caden Cole, left, talks with Gabe Logan at Duluth East High School.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Students on Wednesday played lighthearted games of volleyball, basketball and floor hockey. Some, like Moen, did their own thing or worked on more granular skills in smaller groups, such as free throws or one-timers.

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The class is a good way for general ed and special ed students to mingle with one another, Meghan Zwak, a special education paraprofessional at East, told the News Tribune.

students participating in physical education class
Gavin Reerer, Duluth East freshman, celebrates after scoring a goal while playing floor hockey.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“Otherwise, they get kind of left out,” she said. “We don’t mix much, so this is a great opportunity for kids to mix and get to know each other.”
Tenth grader Lucy Bruckelmyer said a counselor suggested she try the class, which is an elective.

“I like helping them,” she said of her special ed counterparts. “Just connecting with them.”

The programs have been in development for a few years at Cloquet and Duluth East and were on display at halftime of the teams’ varsity football matchup Friday.

Mandy Brisson and Faith Rock, both ninth graders, and senior Maddy Hawroth played a little basketball with one another on Wednesday. Brisson said she’s not very good at the sport, though.

“This is the time I mostly practice,” she said. She planned to work on her shooting.

Brisson said she’ll play pretty much any sport if it’s fun. Rock indicated she’s more of a volleyball player than a basketball one. Hawroth was on board with both sports in about equal measures.

students participating in physical education class
Staff member Sharon Brown, from left, listens to students Maddy Hawroth, Faith Rock and Mandy Brisson during a unified physical education class.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The trio and Sharon Brown, the adapted phy ed teacher at East, hope to get a unified swimming day organized at the Hermantown YMCA. They’ll get to get out of school, Brisson said, and they can hone their swimming skills.

The school is also trying to organize a unified cheerleading team to perform at an East basketball game later this winter.

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Unified Sports is a program organized by the Special Olympics that aims to partner people with intellectual disabilities or other special needs with more typical athletes. The program was founded in 2008.

students participating in physical education class
Special education paraprofessional Meghan Zwak, left, plays basketball with Gabe Logan.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

East High School is a “Unified Champion School,” which means it features inclusive sports such as the unified PE class and a track and field invitational held last spring; promotes inclusive youth leadership; and encourages respect and social inclusion.

“Students who ‘Play Unified,’” Principal Danette Seboe wrote in a school newsletter earlier this year, “become better at helping others, standing up for each other, and sharing responsibility.”

students participating in physical education class
Gavin Reerer, right, a Duluth East freshman, talks to fellow student Rex Line.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
students participating in physical education class
Freshman Rachael Bucheger, left, pushes classmate Kadence Engen on an Ezyroller.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Related Topics: EDUCATIONDULUTHDULUTH EAST HIGH SCHOOLSPECIAL EDUCATION
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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