A special one-credit UD course this fall paired UD students with Special Olympics athletes to help promote diversity, understanding and appreciation for people with intellectual and physical differences.

Field experience

Class pairs UD students with Special Olympians to promote diversity, inclusion


5:04 p.m., Dec. 11, 2015--The sun was setting and the rain was falling, yet that did not stop 50 enthusiastic soccer players from attending their weekly University of Delaware course, Special Olympics Relationship Experience (HDFS 167).

The one-credit course, designed by Lara Andrews, a doctoral candidate in UD's Department of Human Development and Family Studies, allowed UD students to interact with people with intellectual disabilities while honing their soccer skills.  

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Andrews, who received her undergraduate and master’s degrees at UD, developed this program as part of her coursework, to help promote diversity, understanding and appreciation for people with intellectual and physical differences. 

“In general, people want to help, but they don't know how," Andrews said. "I’ve found that usually, once they interact and experience working with someone with a disability, it changes their attitude.” 

She collaborated with Special Olympics Delaware to create this 10-week experiential learning class for 25 UD students and 25 Special Olympic athletes this fall.

“This class gives UD students and Special Olympics athletes the opportunity to learn and play together, to have fun and to better understand each other,” said Steven Eidelman, H. Rodney Sharp Professor for Human Services Policy and Leadership and class instructor.

UD students spent the first weeks of the semester in the classroom preparing and learning about Special Olympics. They met with a Special Olympic athlete and a parent to gain a greater understanding of what they were to experience. 

Participants then formed six teams with the athletes and competed in soccer games, allowing the UD students to combine classroom theory with practice. 

Strangers quickly became friends as they worked together to master skills. 

Theresa Moore, mother of Special Olympics athlete Tori, says her daughter has benefited from the experience of being around age appropriate peers and that she looked forward to attending the program each week.

“She loves coming on Wednesdays; you couldn’t stop her. She tells me first thing in morning that she is ready to come play soccer in the afternoon,” Moore said.  “She is a woman of few words but always has positive feedback afterward.”

The program allowed students to gain an inside look into the challenges and opportunities of creating relationships with individuals with intellectual disabilities. 

“I'm helping teach a class for the Career and Life Studies Certificate (CLSC) program on campus, and some of my students are taking this class,” said Jessie Reedy, senior human services major with a minor in disabilities studies. “It has been fun taking both classes at the same time because I get to be their student teacher and classmate.”

Teams worked toward an end goal — the final class competition — where they could demonstrate their new relationship building skills and soccer skills. The championship games were enjoyed by spectators, including family and friends. 

Participants received certificates and Team Awesome won, but Andrews said, “We all were winners after this experience. Students and Special Olympic athletes were able to come on campus and earn a certificate together.”

The class was so successful, the spring semester offering filled within the first 20 minutes of registration. Eidelman and Andrews are looking forward to expanding the program and seeing how it will develop at UD and possibly on other campuses.

“Our goal was to increase peer-to-peer interactions between those with and without disabilities, as well as to change attitudes on inclusion. I think this program has done that and created not only friendships but a stronger partnership with Special Olympics Delaware,” Andrews said. 

Article and video by Elizabeth Adams

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