Unified gym class changing the culture of Buffalo High School

May 10, 2019 05:39 PM

Gym class in elementary school is generally a fond memory for kids.

But in high school, interest often wains, with teenage awkwardness and more class options.

However, some schools are now offering a new kind of high school physical education course, one that is changing the culture of entire schools.

In a gymnasium in Buffalo, two basketball teams take the court. 

The teams are made up of students with special needs and general education students. In the stands, the fans are cheering on everyone.

This tournament with students from Buffalo, Delano and Dassel-Cokato schools evolved from a unified physical education class at Buffalo High School that has gone over so well it has maxed out its class size all year long.

"We found that students were starving to help and connect," said developmental adapted physical education teacher, Jen Heebink.

Heebink brought the concept to her students.

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"This class is a physical education class where students can come together and find that connection and belonging, and we're really finding that it's changing the culture of the school," she said. 

Students like Nick Grady and Lauren O'Connell are both benefitting.

"What's the best thing about today? Everyone," said Grady, with a smile.

"It has created friendships that I never would have created at Buffalo High School if not for this class," added O'Connell. 

Watching her son from the stands, Penny Kauffman says this is every parent's wish.

"That's what you want-- you want your kid to be included in their high school," she said.

Kauffman knows her son Kyle will walk away with great memories, but says the lesson it's teaching the rest of the students is even more important.

"It's not necessarily about Kyle and his disability, it's about what it's doing for the kids-- the typical kids, the general education kids, because it's just that compassion that we need for the disabled population, and this is it," Kauffman said.

"Basically what I want for my students is to walk into my class with the opportuntiy to become brave, and be brave, and walk out of my class with the opportuntiy to change the world," Heebink said.

This is the fourth year for schools in Minnesota to offer unified classes like this.

There are more than 100 schools across the state now participating.

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Jessica Miles

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