It’s a fact:
• in 2012, 11% of students with disabilities served under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act did not graduate high school.
• in 2014, the number of requests for home- and community-based services exceeded the state’s capacity to provide support to many individuals with disabilities.
Center for Disease Control, Texas Centers on Disabilities and Development
The College of Education and Human Development hosts many programs, particularly in the summer but some throughout the academic year, designed to increase equity and access for families with disabilities and provide opportunities for our current students to gain quality experience in their fields.
Camp LIFE, one of many opportunities for pre-service teachers offered by the college, is an inclusive camping opportunity for children with disabilities. Undergraduate and graduate students are able to gain valuable field experience while children with disabilities and their siblings participate in a barrier-free camp setting. It’s a special opportunity for both groups of participants.
Now in its 12th year, Camp LIFE (Leadership, Independence and Friends through Experiences) has served more than 600 children with disabilities throughout Texas with the support of the Center on Disability and Development (CDD) and the Gibson Family Camp LIFE Endowment by Mary Ann and Gordon Gibson.
“For most children, attending camp can be a routine childhood experience, but with Camp LIFE it is a vital experience for children with disabilities to have accessible fun,” explains camp director Jessicah Holloway.
The camp also offers a Family Day camping option for parents, who are not quite ready to let their children attend camp alone. The day camp offers workshops and provides networking opportunities for campers and parents to experience first-hand the bonding, support and fun.
Dr. Amy Sharp, Associate Director of the CDD, added “Family Day Camp is a great extension to our program, because it has welcomed new participants and continued to focus on what the campers can do.”
SPLASH, a five-week, water activity outreach program, is part of an adapted physical education kinesiology course. This program provides college students an opportunity for real-life training as SPLASH counselors, while helping local kids with disabilities.
Taking place both in the classroom and at the pool, SPLASH counselors learn how to analyze different abilities - working with faculty - to make the child’s time in the pool beneficial.
Gretchen Tyson, an instructional assistant professor in the Physical Education Activity Program, has worked with special needs children since she was in high school. She has been involved with SPLASH for four years.
“Half of the adapted physical education class does field experience in local schools while working with an adaptive physical education specialist,” Tyson says. “The other half does [SPLASH] lab experience, then the students flip roles midway through the semester.”
An acronym for Special Populations Learn Aquatics with Aggie Students Helping, the program is designed to prepare undergraduates from diverse programs including physical education teacher certification, motor behavior exercise physiology and special education for working with people who have special needs.
“Our students come in thinking the challenge is going to be working with their assigned student’s diagnosis,” Gretchen says. “I tell them to just teach as if they were teaching it to me and then work on compensating for other challenges.”
Each child gets one to two SPLASH counselors with them, depending on what kind of extra care they need in the water. The child then has their swimming skills assessed, and a lesson plan is developed based on the results.
“Usually the first day our SPLASH counselors are intimidated, but by the end, they ask for pictures and develop a bond with the kids they are serving,” Tyson says. “Some of the kids have been coming to SPLASH for years and still ask about their Aggie buddies years later.”
SPLASH, at its core, is about connecting with people. SPLASH counselors learn both about making special accommodations and changing the way they communicate. Students are able to see first-hand the role of the educator in helping children with disabilities increase their own potentials in learning and activity.
“It does good things for our community and for our Aggies,” Gretchen says. “It definitely changes their perspective on who they think they might work with as they leave school.”
"SPLASH, at its core is about connecting with people."