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Empowering All Students Through PEOPEL PE

PEOPEL PE is a Physical Education class in which juniors and seniors pair up with students from the Ultima program and spend their PE classes with them. PEOPEL PE has been around for twenty years, created and currently run by teacher Mrs. Wilkins.

Mrs. Wilkins says that she is “very proud to say that I created this program during my second year of teaching. This class was based on my student-teaching experience at Naperville Central.”

She continues explaining the course, saying that “I call it a reverse mainstream course. These students may have individual needs cognitively, physically, or socially.”   

Photo courtesy of Janine Wilkins

PEOPEL PE takes place during the school day and is an alternative to a traditional PE class. To be eligible to enroll, you must fill out a form and wait for approval. This process is typically done in your sophomore year.

In the PEOPEL PE course, the general education students become tutors. There is a process in which they learn what to do, and how to do it. These tasks can vary from learning about sensory issues, to how to be a student as well as a friend for the Ultima students.

Mrs. Wilkins explains, “We also use the six weeks of training to introduce our tutors to careers in special education. These individuals spend a class period sharing what is needed to get into their profession, personal experiences, and educational background.”

During the training process, high school students also get the opportunity to meet adults from Sandburg to learn more about the careers ahead of them. Mrs. Wilkins says, “we bring in our district an OT and PT, as well as a special education teacher, speech pathologist, social worker, a Sandburg teacher who has two autistic children, [counselor] Mr. Matkovich, and alumni from our PEOPEL program.”

The PEOPEL PE course usually runs during 3rd and 7th hour, as they try to keep their schedule as consistent as possible. The students engage in fun activities that rotate in three-week periods, along with being able to learn and try new things. The units include personal space, kickball, soccer, pickleball, floor hockey, dance, smashball, rock climbing, swimming, and t-ball.

“We modify our activities based on personal needs. For example, if we have a student who has vision problems, we will use a larger and brighter-colored ball. Every Wednesday, we walk the track on warm days, and in the winter, we do Wednesday meditation,” states Mrs. Wilkins. 

Students get to have fun with friends and participate in different activities. The students  have diverse interests, and they are passionate about unique parts of the course. Ryan Shankman, Karlie Perk, Kacper Szustak, and Robert Mahmood, students in the PEOPEL PE class, are some of these diverse students. Shankman discusses his favorite parts of PEOPEL PE, stating that he loves, “being in gym class and hanging out with friends and Jimmy. I Like to swim with friends.”

Photo courtesy of Janine Wilkins

Perk says, ““I like Wednesday[s] because we meditate.”

Mahmood has a different favorite activity. He says, “basketball is my favorite.”

Szustak says he loves “hanging out with tutors” and that “my favorite units are swimming and rock climbing.”

Along with all of the fun things the students do during class, they also get to go on one field trip, as well as attend three school events together. The students go to a varsity football game and get special seating by the cheerleaders, and they also perform in the Dance 2 showcase. Additionally, the PEOPEL PE class takes part in the District 230 Special Games and goes to see a sports event outside of school.

Mrs Wilkins states, “Every year in May, we attend the District 230 Special Games that we started here at Sandburg two years ago. This is where our students come together with the other PEOPEL classes from Stagg and Andrew. We compete in outdoor activities, create themes, and enjoy everyone’s company. We also attended a Chicago Wolves game. This year we will be going to the Windy City Bulls game on February 8th.”

The class brings in a lot of joy and interesting moments — not only for the Ultima students, but also for the tutors and staff. Mrs. Wilkin says, “My favorite part of this class is seeing the joy that it brings for everyone. This class changes the culture of a school and impacts the lives of all involved. It reminds me that we have so many wonderful students here at Sandburg who care about people. I almost do not have words for what it means to me. It is what I am most proud of as an educator. The most important thing that I have learned from my students is patience. I think it is important to take your time, advocate for yourself, and enjoy your life no matter the situation.” 

Photo courtesy of Janine Wilkins

PEOPEL PE is a great environment for everyone and anyone regardless of interest or ability. This course offers a setting of inclusion, acceptance, and connection that makes Sandburg a welcoming place for all. 

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