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By Gabriella Landeros

For Tammy Varnum, being able to combine the best of both worlds – the social aspect students enjoy with their buddies and the daily practice of their physical skills – was the motivation to bring Unified Physical Education (PE) to Adams Middle School in Brentwood. Varnum is a member of the Brentwood Teachers Association (BTA) and a PE teacher at Adams. She has been instrumental in bringing this program to life. Because of Varnum’s tireless advocacy, as well as other educators at Adams, the program is designed to promote and foster social inclusion and positive interactions for students with a variety of abilities through specially designed physical activities and team sports.

What makes the program especially unique is that it allows students with and without disabilities an opportunity to build friendships, develop mutual respect and break down stereotypes to promote tolerance and acceptance through the “buddy system.”

“Bringing Unified PE shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began after observing PE classes in our schools and district. General education PE classes are known for having large class sizes, and these large classes were overstimulating for a lot of our students with special needs. Instead of the students participating and being amongst their peers, they were on the side or in a corner trying to find relief from the noise, the fast pace of games and skills, and the overall atmosphere of middle school PE. Our students were not socializing with their peers or practicing their physical skills, and they needed a class designed with their needs in mind. That is why we began the Unified PE classes at Adams,” said Varnum.

“Tammy is a great advocate for all of our students and works tirelessly to enhance the experiences of an often-underserved group. She is thoughtful and wants students to have opportunities to enjoy sports on different levels,” said BTA President Lisa Bustillos.

“Unified PE is what is best for students. The environment provided for students allows for the most challenging, least restrictive classroom for physical education where students can thrive. The magic ratio is a mixture of special education students who buddy up with general education students, and that is where they can get the exercise and the socialization they need for body well-being and brain function.”

–Adams PE teacher Mr. Migay

“I love Unified Sports because all participants could meet, socialize with and learn from people they may have never otherwise had the opportunity to or have seen on campus. It celebrates the diversity of our student body and helps us to be an inclusive community,” said Adams Math teacher Kim Sudweeks.

This special program tailored to the needs of students has parents excited as well.

“My daughter is an 8th grader at Adams and Unified PE has been a highlight of her time in middle school. She has two amazing buddies who bonded with her from the start of 6th grade and have continued to participate with her every year. They are unfailingly patient and positive and always make her feel part of the school community. My daughter looks forward to PE every day. She has had a lot of physical challenges this past year, but she loves Unified PE so much that she is motivated to push through her pain and participate as much as possible. We are so thankful for this amazing program and the impact it has had on our daughter’s life,” said parent Janee Pedersen.

“Witnessing the remarkable camaraderie between the general education students and those in special education is truly awe-inspiring. LJ shines like a star when he steps into the school environment. The enthusiastic greetings of ‘Hi LJ’ not only light up his face but also warm our hearts. We wholeheartedly endorse Unified PE and advocate for diverse forms of inclusion. After all, every child yearns for a sense of belonging and security, and inclusion provides just that!” said parents Crystal and Lamar Jourdan.

“It’s so nice to have this available to children who may not be physically/mentally capable to join a mainstream sport. This allowed the children to feel confident and part of a sport like other children. I thought it was great and enjoyed attending the games, and Yusuf felt like he was part of something. We’re Already looking forward to the next Unified team up!” said parent Dani Razaqi.

Unified PE has made a huge difference in the lives of students thanks to the educators and parents who spoke up about this major need and made it all possible!

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