It was a tough year to start this program, but it was so worth it,” says Heidi Fisher. Fisher is the Developmental Adaptive PE Teacher at Moorhead High School. “There are hundreds of positive memories for every difficult day. You crumble up the difficulties, toss them in the garbage and move on.”
Unified PE connects students, of varying ability levels and backgrounds, to come together through sports, leadership and wellness activities. The program focuses on the physical, intellectual and social growth of all participants with a 50/50 general education/special education student structure.
Fisher worked hard to start this program, creating new opportunities for students. “We had a lot of fun this year,” says Fisher. We would play different games, have relays and problem solve. She says, “I wish I had kept a journal of things my students have said. They come up with the funniest and sweetest things.”
The impact of this program is far-reaching across all students enrolled. Fisher reflects, “Their goals are the same, right? They are actively figuring out how they are going to do this together. When you see them naturally work together and figure it out, it’s inspiring to watch.” Students are connecting and working with people different from themselves. Fisher hopes her students take these experiences and use them in their life beyond high school.
While Unified PE is one of Moorhead High Schools’ first sport-based integrated programs, there has always been a strong presence of student inclusion. Fisher has worked at Moorhead Area Public schools for 30 years and has seen the positive impact.
The Peer to Peer program at Moorhead High is another strong inclusive program that takes place in the classroom setting. Integrating students enrolled in general education and special education programs through activities in a classroom setting benefits all students. Students in both the classroom and gymnasium are building connections and collaboration with others both similar to and different from themselves. This year Unified PE and Peer to Peer partnered to create a “Be the Change '' video.
Peer to Peer also has a program where general education and special education students partner up for a special outing, like going to get ice cream. Fisher hopes to implement something similar through Unified PE. Her goal is to create a special cheering section at games for Peer to Peer and Unified PE students.
Students also have the ability to be in extracurricular sports like Special Olympics track and field, adapted bowling and now adapted floor hockey.
Adapted bowling is a favorite among students. This program began with under ten students participating, and it is now up to 30 students during its sixth year. This year, 24 students went to the Adapted Athletic State Bowling Tournament.
Following the popularity of bowling and the success of Unified PE, Activities Director Dean Haugo and Fisher discussed adding another sport. Moorhead High will start adapted floor hockey next year.
Participating in these athletic events is empowering for students and parents. Fisher says, “Being able to have students do something new and see them have success is huge.” The students work hard and put the effort into these sports and activities. Fisher says, “It’s special for parents too to be able to put their child on the bus to compete and cheer for them as they play. They value the sense of belonging and accomplishment their kids experience.”
Fisher’s love for teaching and for her students shines through her dedication to these integrated programs. She says, “They need and deserve these opportunities to be with their peers, to have the same experiences.” She is very proud to be a part of Moorhead Area Public Schools, a district with inclusion and support.
Fisher says, “I’m so thankful that Moorhead is saying yes. It’s really important.”