California Educator

May / June 2016

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Adapted PE Teacher Kick-Starts New Way for Students to Join In M E L I S S A A B A D I A W A N T E D all of her students to participate in her adapted PE classes. But many were unable to kick the ball from their wheelchairs to participate in kickball, soccer or bowling. So Abadia designed the "Kicker Helper," which allows students to use a lever attached to their wheelchair to "kick" the ball and play with others. Now every student is getting a kick out of PE class, thanks to the inventiveness and perseverance of this San Leandro Teach- ers Association member. "Go, Precious, go!" cheer youngsters as Precious Espinosa's Kicker Helper hits a beach ball and sends it flying in the gym at Madison Elementary School. A smile lights up her face as she makes contact and is wheeled away. Abadia has taught adapted PE for four years to students with moderate to severe disabilities at six elementary schools, one high school and two adult education programs in the San Leandro Unified School District. Many of her students are in wheelchairs. "When I first started this job, I didn't know what to do with these kids," she confides. "ey have multiple disabilities and are nonverbal, for the most part. They may have grip issues, feeding tubes, seizures, and other medical issues. But I wanted them to be able to play kickball and soccer. I wanted them to be able to participate and be active. I thought there had to be some piece of equipment out there that would help them." But no such equipment existed, so she invented it. Her first kicker was created from an old shoe, PVC pipe and foam noo- dles (used for play in swimming pools) attached to the chair with a zip tie. Students would squeeze a grip and the foot would kick out. It worked OK but not great, because it often fell off the chair. So she looked for ways to improve upon her invention. Google engineers helped with the prototype when she participated in Google's Bay Area Makeathon last fall. The new model has a battery and a button students can push. It's an improvement, but it's not yet perfect. However, the project is still alive and kicking. The San Leandro Teacher of the Year is now collaborating with metal fabricator, designer and welder Mark Monico to produce a lightweight aluminum model. She has started an online fun drai ser at wheelchair-sports-equipment. — Sherry Posnick-Goodwin Photo by Scott Buschman IN MELISSA'S WORDS: My long-term goal… is to make the Kicker Helper available through- out California and the U.S., to adult recreation centers and rehabilitation centers. It would be great if paraeducators and teachers could take it out at schools everywhere during recess time and adapted PE. What I love best… is seeing kids' reactions. A lot of these kids are nonverbal, but when they kick the ball and see the cause and effect, you can see the smile on their faces and in their eyes. They think they are superb athletes and they develop confidence. The best moments… are when kids help each other. You see one stu- dent trying to use the Kicker Helper and having grip problems, and another kid comes by and helps them. Different kids have different chal- lenges. But the moments I love best are when the kids show that they care about each other, help each other, and cheer for each other. They have genuine heart, and I love their spirit. Abadia with her first Kicker Helper. 18

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