James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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Faculty Member Creates Physical Activity Program for Special Needs Children

By: Amanda Rivera
Posted: October 6, 2008

PHOTO: Activity ProgramWide-eyed children of all ages begin to straggle in, each one led by a JMU student to a corner of the W.H. Keister Elementary Gymnasium where various centers are assembled.  Suddenly, Kinesiology professor Dr. Thomas Moran comes to the center of the room and yells, “Freeze…You have five seconds to come to the middle circle only using big steps.”  As eleven children anxiously bombard the center of the gymnasium, Dr. Moran counts off the allotted time.  On  September 24, the second session of Dr. Moran’s Outreach Physical Activity Program for special needs children was held.  As a part of his Adapted Physical Education class, the Kinesiology professor was able to use this program to pair his students with special needs children in the area.  “When I was in their shoes, training to be a physical education teacher, I had the opportunity to get hands-on experience and I quickly realized that I, as the instructor, can stand up there and talk about all these disabilities and try to show them video clips, but until they actually get a chance to engage with the children and learn to plan for students with certain disabilities, it really doesn’t sink in,” he says.

Scheduled weekly from 4:30-5:30 up until November 19, Dr. Moran poses different themes for his students to focus on each session with the children.  Challenged to create a circus for this week, the students-turned-teachers created a world appreciated by any imaginative mind. The circus even  included  a “Rings of Fire” station fashioned out of hula hoops and foam.   Outside the circus arena, parents expressed enthusiasm for the program.  “We’re really excited about extracurricular activities for children with special needs.  Oftentimes, it’s hard to find a place that will be accepting of a child with special needs,” says Marlena Jarboe.  A reality reciprocated by Dr. Moran: “I think it’s vital that children in the community have opportunities to be active and so many of these kids, their parents don’t get to see them achieve their potential.”  Offering a setting where the Kinesiology professor says teachers are “ready and willing,” the children are afforded one-on-one attention to reach certain goals.  “We’re very thankful to JMU and everything that they offer.  We don’t know what we would do without them. We feel very blessed to have them so close,” says Marlena.

Working with children spanning a range of needs, including Autism, Down’s syndrome and Cerebral Palsy, the JMU students are able to set goals for themselves as well.  Dr. Moran says, “It’s a nice way for them to say, ‘Ok, we learned about this disability in class, now I’m getting a chance to work with a student with that given disability and here are some of the issues they face, here are some strategies that I need to work on.’”  Suggestive of the overall perception of the program, the JMU students appeared equally engaged by the experience.  While it may appear all fun and games, Dr. Moran explains that it fulfills a practical purpose: “In a year they’ll be out there in the real world faced with these issues.  As we give them experience now, they’re better prepared later on.”

Offering new and challenging opportunities for the JMU students, their younger cohorts are also able to learn and grow from these experiences.  “Unfortunately, children with disabilities or special needs don’t have programs.  While all the other kids are going to little league practice or soccer practice or some kind of after-school activity, a lot of these kids just go home,” says Dr. Moran.  A whirlwind of laughter and energy, it hardly looked as if any of these children were ready to return home.  However, they all eagerly returned to their awaiting parents as Dr. Moran closed the hour the same way it had opened yelling “Freeze,” for the last time that day.