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Traveling the Distance

Spec. Ed. Students Log Miles for Fitness

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Special education students in Mesa, Ariz., have set an ambitious goal—to walk the distance to the nation’s capital.

As part of their school district’s Fitness Challenge Program, they plan to walk 2,362 miles by March. That’s the number of miles separating Mesa from Washington.

The 75,000-student district’s challenge is part of its adaptive physical education program, which provides developmentally appropriate programming for students with disabilities.

Donna Lovetro, an adaptive-PE teacher who started the walking challenge five years ago, said she was looking for a sport that would be suitable for students with special needs.

Students begin the Fitness Challenge.
Students from Carson Junior High School in Mesa, Ariz., begin the Fitness Challenge.
—Courtesy of Paula Hinshaw

The program, which started with six classes and about 45 students, today encompasses 51 classes and 410 students. The miles walked by each class will be totaled to reach the goal of 2,362 miles.

“This is one of the largest programs for students with special needs offered by a school district,” Ms. Lovetro said.

In her fight against student obesity, the teacher said, she’s noticed that gaining weight is not the only consequence for people who don’t exercise. They’re also less motivated and less happy.

“But now, the kids are healthier, more energized, and more motivated,” Ms. Lovetro said. “They are the ones saying, ‘We need to walk today.’ ”

The students, who are ages 6 to 22, face challenges that include severe mental disorders, Down syndrome, and learning disabilities.

In the past five years, the students have “walked” to several locations, including the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, Sea World, and Mount Rushmore, racking up about 50,000 miles. “We are trying to find destinations that the students can relate to,” Ms. Lovetro said.

Teachers have folded the program into their curricula, finding ways to add an academic aspect to it. Some students learn about the cities they “visit” while walking. Others learn math through breathing exercises.

Vol. 24, Issue 12, Page 3

Published in Print: November 17, 2004, as Traveling the Distance

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