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Kelly Smith, Published November 07 2009

Adaptive gym class teams up students with disabilities and high school peers

What started out as just a way to get volunteer credit has given 16-year-old Dylan Reis a future career.

Each day, the West Fargo Community High School junior works with students with disabilities in an adaptive gym class at West Fargo High School.

“I like working with the kids,” he said. “This is what I’m going to go to college for.”

The class teams up physically and intellectually disabled students with athletes and high school peers.

Here, the special education students aren’t being coached by their peers – they’re teammates.

“Instead of bringing them to the regular class, we bring the regular class to them,” teacher Chris Kalsow said.

From bocce ball to bowling, the two groups of students become close over the school year, developing friendships and swapping high fives in the hallway.

Popularity, it seems, can be gained from being in Kalsow’s class.

“It’s more fun because there’s more people,” said senior Saidu Conteh, an avid football fan who enjoys the chance to participate in sports in the class.

While the special education students earn credit for the Special Olympics through the class, their peers earn volunteer credit.

Yet for people like Reis, the reward is less about volunteer hours and more about the chance to make a difference in these students’ lives.

“The regular ed students get a lot of value out of it, too,” Kalsow said. “I see a big change in the students that come down here.”

Adaptive gym classes are offered districtwide, though Kalsow’s program connecting special and regular education students is now being used as a model for other schools.

“I try to give them the same opportunities every other kid gets,” he said. “Without this class, (they) wouldn’t have this experience.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515