Harrison creates a more unified school through physical education

Jameson Stahl, Claire Anderson and Paige Speedling

Paula Harrison is a physical education teacher who has been teaching in Stillwater since 1995. Unified Physical Education, or Unified PE, is a new course she added for the current school year. Unified is unique opportunity for students of varying ability, level, and backgrounds to come together through sports, fitness, leadership, and wellness opportunities.

Besides teaching Unified, Harrison also teaches Fitness for Life. Harrison created the Unified course this year. What makes the course really unique is that it can be taken by students as an elective or for a credit. Some students from first semester enjoyed it so much they signed up for it second semester too.

“The special education students that I have worked with over the years, I’ve always felt like they are separated rather than included. I am very passionate about wanting them to be part of the school. Working with student teachers and paras is good, and they have fun. But being with their own peers is huge. I think we need to include them more,” Harrison said.

Harrison wants everyone in the school to feel included, no matter how they look or act. On March 25, Harrison and the Unified students will be hanging posters in the cafeteria to raise awareness to the “Spread The Word to End The Word” and Person First campaigns that work to end the stigma about people with disabilities and encourage the world to see for who they are instead of what they have.

Photo by Paige Speedling
Physical Education teacher Paula Harrison turns the class over to seniors Noah Pasiuk and Thomas Haggard. They teach the class how to play basketball.

“I have never had Mrs. Harrison as a teacher before. I think that she has impacted the school by involving the special ed children in general. For as long as I have been at this school I’ve never really seen or interacted with them,” senior Laurel Bremer said.

Students with special needs require different things. Many students do not interact with special ed students during the school day. Through Unified, Harrison is trying to break the stereotypes and create friendships. Being in Unified gives students the ability to be leaders, make a change in the school and make different kinds of friendships.

“The end goal of Unified is that when a student is walking down the hall and they see one of our buddies that they treat them like one of their friends. It is not thinking that they are weird or thinking that they are not as good as you, it’s really that you view them as just another student,” Harrison said.

Students with special needs have different and unique personalities.

“I think that Unified is a great way to socialize and get to know kids with disabilities. I really enjoy seeing how happy the kids get and to be able to be involved in something bigger and make an effort to do better while making the school a better place,” senior Noah Pasiuk said.

Unified is the first of its kind. Unlike Adapted PE, both regular students and special ed students come together to act as a whole. The class means a lot to all of the students, especially the students who sometimes feel like they do not have a place at school.

“Mrs. Harrison is doing a great job, she understands how these kids work and how to incorporate an active lifestyle into a schedule that is comfortable and positive for them,” Pasiuk said.

Harrison has made Unified a positive class for everyone. Once a week the students journal about how they think class is and what concerns they might have moving forward. Students learn about each student and how their circumstances differ from each other. Students pair up and are able to make a lesson plan for one of the days, they are responsible for teaching the class the activity.4

Although Unified is something still considered new and different, Special Olympics has made it their goal to change the way everyone with or without disabilities are viewed.

Unified has gained attention throughout the school. Students get to have fun with new friends and take part in important movements that are changing how education is viewed.