Conquering Curiosity Through Physical Education

A tearful phone call from a parent in 2007 was the impetus Emily Kovarik needed to launch Idaho’s Boise Parks & Recreation’s Ability Team. “A mom called me because a PE teacher didn’t know what to do with her first-grade son in a wheelchair,” Kovarik says. “Her son’s job was to hold a clipboard and count how many times other kids ran around the asphalt playground.”

As the city’s Adaptive Recreation Coordinator, Kovarik knew she had an opportunity to help, so she worked with a local wheelchair athlete

Photos Courtesy Of Boise Parks & Recreation

Photos Courtesy Of Boise Parks & Recreation

to create a free school assembly program that uses sports to educate teachers and kids about disabilities.

Uncertain whether school administrators would be receptive to the idea, Kovarik was pleased to learn that Shadow Hills Elementary School Principal Brett Forrey approved of her plan.

The Ability Team assemblies are offered in school gyms and cafeterias in a high-energy 45- to 60-minute format. Up to four team members provide testimonials, demonstrate basketball and tennis skills, explain adaptive equipment, and answer questions from kids and teachers. To the delight of the students, the athletes also face off with teachers in a rousing game of wheelchair basketball.

Questions With Answers

Program goals include:

  • Increasing awareness about disabilities
  • Eliminating negative stereotypes
  • Promoting acceptance by fostering positive attitudes toward individuals with disabilities.

Kovarik says that the Ability Team illustrates that individuals with disabilities are capable of achieving the same goals as those without disabilities.

In many cases, the assemblies provide a comfortable setting for inquisitive children who may not have met a person with a disability. “I don’t think these kids have been able to ask questions and talk to someone in a wheelchair,” says Kovarik.

Costs And Supplies

In 2011 and 2012, the parks and recreation department offered five assemblies reaching 1,904 elementary and junior-high students at a cost of $1,500.

Ability Team athletes are paid $50 per session, with funding provided by private donations. Kovarik coordinates fundraisers and writes requests to foundations. In 2012, she received a $1,000 grant

PRB0913_Stahl_AbilityTeam_2

from Idaho Power. Occasionally, a school sends an unsolicited contribution with funds raised from bake sales or other fundraisers.

While the athletes provide their own wheelchairs, the parks department supplies five wheelchairs for the teacher vs. team basketball game.

Although the free assemblies take place in school facilities where basketball hoops are available on Fridays during the school year, Kovarik believes the program reaches beyond the schoolhouse doors. “We educate the staff, the kids, and some of the parents because the kids go home and talk about what they learned.”

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