Photo by Maya Disher

Senior general education student Leah Foster and special education student play in the foam pit. During Unified PE, the students are paired together to work together in many different types of activities.

Students united through physical education

December 17, 2022

High school is a time when students get to learn how to work and communicate with their peers. They create friendships and learn skills that will be carried into other aspects of their life. These four years are meant to unite the entire student body, but physical education teacher, Paula Harrison, saw a division between special education and general education students.

In 2019, Harrison introduced a new gym course to the school called Unified PE. Harrison attended a conference where a teacher talked about a class that brought special and general education students together to learn in an environment that caters to both education levels.

According to the speaker, this was a unique learning experience that she believed benefitted both education levels greatly. Harrison could not help but agree and was inspired to bring this experience to her students.

“I’ve taught for a really long time and this, to me, is the way we should be working with our [special needs] friends The whole school should be working together. This shouldn’t be a ‘you’re in a separate lower class,’ it should be how can we work together,” Harrison said.

Unified PE has not only become an opportunity for general education students to learn about the special needs community, but has also helped them learn other skills such as empathy, understanding, and simply how to value other people.

Harrison said that we have been a “divisive society,” for a while and we need to understand that special education kids are not that different from everyone else, but people do not give them the chance to show it. This course has started to open the minds of young adults all around the nation, which therefore creates a broader future for the special education community.

The class is structured so that each student has a partner and every day they are working together during fun activities.

You’re making new connections, making new friends and your work is just a bunch of new experiences. You’re learning through all of these experiences about what they like and who they are.

— Kylynn Zanon

Senior general education student McKenna Hink said that by getting to know these students personally every day, she has a better understanding of how to properly communicate with special education students. Hoping to get a degree in elementary education, Hink plans to use these skills to help her with her future students of all abilities.

Since this program has been created, many general education students have been inspired to become involved in the TRUST (True Respect Unifies Students Together) Club, while many TRUST Club members have now enrolled in Unified PE.

Special education student and TRUST Club president, senior Kylynn Zanon were introduced to Unified PE by Harrison and she said she has gained even more knowledge on how to work and cater to someone else’s special needs.

“You’re making new connections, making new friends and your work is just a bunch of new experiences,” Zanon said. “You’re learning through all of these experiences about what they like and who they are.”

Harrison described this course as life-changing. Retiring this year, Harrison said that this experience has been a game-changer for her. This has been a valuable learning experience for her as an educator and she hopes that other students will take this learning opportunity to better themselves and that this program will continue even when she is gone.

TRUST Club’s adapted basketball team plays in Unified basketball tournament


Photo by Maya Disher

Sophomore Mason Mora-Clark dribbles the ball down the court during the Unified basketball game. Mora-Clark is playing his second year of adapted basketball, helping the team to a state title in 2022.

Special Olympics Minnesota hosted its annual adapted basketball tournament on Feb. 3 at the Eagan Community Center, where the TRUST Club‘s adapted basketball team participated for their second year, following their state title win in 2022.

The tournament aimed to provide students with the opportunity to gain new experiences and include special education athletes with general education partners. The event enabled athletes to feel included and learn new skills, such as teamwork and sportsmanship, that could help them not only in basketball but also in life.

“I think we had the best inclusion, we had a lot of our athletes shooting instead of our partners, our partners really had a grasp of what inclusion really means in an athletic setting,” senior Tom Blair said.

Throughout the year, the adapted basketball team practiced for the tournament, meeting once every week on Wednesdays. The varsity basketball team also joined their practices throughout the year to assist the athletes in becoming better. The varsity team has also shown a great interest in engaging in activities with the adapted team, even though the season is over.

“We’ve practiced all year and had the varsity boys basketball team practice with us… The varsity team has a lot of interest in practicing with us again, even though we didn’t participate in the state tournament,” Blair said.

The tournament had a competitive edge, giving athletes the opportunity to experience competitiveness, leadership and inclusion in an athletic setting.

“Let the athletes take the wheel and guide them when needed, they were in control the whole game,” Blair said.

Athletes got the chance to play as a team and score points independently, putting them in the spotlight and embracing the inclusion that the tournament is all about.

Sophomore athlete Mason Mora-Clark said he enjoyed “working as a passionate team and helped score points”.

Although the Ponies adapted basketball team did not finish with a win, the athletes and partners enjoyed playing as a team and working together.

Junior Cooper Mattox said he thinks they did a great job of getting everyone to score and working together during the basketball games.

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TRUST club fundraises for equipment


Photo by Aubree Bigger

Senior Patrick De St. Aubin, member of the TRUST club, poses outside of lunch. Patrick is a leader of the TRUST club and helps them fundraise and plan events.

The TRUST club promotes unity, inclusivity and equality. This club works to unify the school and make students with disabilities feel at home. Often, disabled students can feel misplaced or like they do not fit in, and the members of the TRUST club work together to join hands and end the stigma.

“The main point of TRUST club is to kind of just unify the special education program with the rest of the school. It kind of like normalizes being friends with everyone,” senior Patrick de St. Aubin said.

The TRUST club works together with its members to plan fundraising events. The club’s most popular events are the Polar Plunge and when they sell their t-shirts for $20 during lunch. 

This year, the club’s signature shirts have a superman logo with the ponies mascot. On the back, it reads, “inclusion is our superpower” and “True-Respect-Unifies-Students-Together”.

The club president is senior Rylynn Zanon and the leaders are seniors Patrick de St. Aubin and Tom Blair. The staff member advising the club is Paula Harrison. However, these are only a few of the many members of the club. They have members of all backgrounds and ages helping to create a safer, more unified school for everyone.

The main point of TRUST club is to kind of just unify the special education program with the rest of the school. It kind of like normalizes being friends with everyone

— Patrick de St Aubin

With the return of office hours, the club can do fun activities for students during that time, which they have not been able to do previously this year.

When asked about fundraising, Zanon said “It goes to our special Olympics,” and “we use it to buy equipment.” Although, they sometimes go on field trips or throw graduation parties for the club’s seniors.

Harrison said they also use the money to buy t-shirts, specialized equipment and that they also donate some of their money to students whose shirts have gotten old and faded.

“Donating helps us plan a lot more events which of course is just great; we’re also able to hold more campaigns and stuff. We’re just able to spread the message a lot easier when we have, like per se, if we don’t have money we can’t buy the shirts we got, then we sell those back to make more money,” St. Aubin said.

Fundraising is a big part of this club and is what helps them keep running. Not only is it beneficial to them in the future, but it is also an event that allows them to hang out and spend time together. 

With donation money, the club can set up more fundraising events, sports events, charity events, and someday maybe even some art events. The club does a lot of fun activities and any sort of donation helps them out greatly. 

The TRUST club does not use any of the money for profit. It all goes towards events, t-shirts and other things aforementioned. 

Donation money is significant for the TRUST club. They need it to plan, enter, and run events or campaigns. Without help from the community, they would not have the financial support required to make a better school for everyone.

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