The Difference Athletics Can Make for Learning Differences
By The Athletic Department (James Melillo, Pat Fitzgerald, John Greco, Dan Peña)
“What is the biggest room in the world? The room for improvement.” It is a quote Pat Fitzgerald, one of Gaynor’s physical education teachers, likes to share often with his students. While physical education classes can help improve fitness, they also can have positive benefits beyond the physical. For students with learning differences who can and often do struggle with self-esteem, social skills, and confidence, the benefits can be even more critical and sometimes even life-changing.
According to PHIT America, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing physical activity and fitness, physical education programs result in long-lasting positive outcomes including:
As an example, Fitzgerald can point to a current student at Gaynor who has not only improved his skill set but also grown tremendously on and off both the basketball court and baseball diamond. Fitzgerald says he has gained confidence and feels as though he can compete with anyone.
In other cases, physical education can be completely transformative. Fitzgerald recalls “Joseph,” a 2012 graduate he worked with who came to Gaynor unmotivated, defiant, obese, with low self-esteem and no interest in physical activity. Joseph returned to Gaynor several years ago for a visit and according to Fitzgerald he was a different person. “He had lost a tremendous amount of weight, was on his school’s track team, confident in himself, and matured more than I could have ever imagined. It was amazing to see.”
Fitzgerald credits Gaynor staff for opening the door to help instill confidence in students as well as encouraging their own hard work and perseverance. “The thing that really makes me realize the growth of our students is when I see them graduate and walk across the stage in June,” says Fitzgerald. “To see how far they have grown and how many obstacles they have overcome is very powerful.”
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Gaynor Gazette, which can be viewed here.