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Teacher: Donna Lovetro who teaches at Mesa Public Schools in Mesa, AZ. Donna Lovetro can be contacted at

Name of Best Practice: Special Education Fitness Challenge

Rationale/Purpose of Event: To encourage classroom teachers to make fitness a part of each and every special educations student's day.

Suggested Grade Level: 4-5

Materials Needed: Chart to record miles.

Special Education Fitness Challenge

Special Education Fitness Challenge

As an advocate for the health and well being of our youth, I see how obesity has effected our youth. So, six years ago I developed a program which I call the "Special Education Fitness Challenge" to be implemented throughout our district.

The purpose of the program was to: get our students out walking on a daily basis and to help teachers see the benefit of daily exercise for their students. I wanted to make fitness a part of each and every special needs student's day. To do this I created a program that each special education teacher in the district has access to.

The program basically works like this:

* A predetermined location is chosen to "walk" to from Mesa, Arizona

* Each teacher is invited to have his or her class join in the Fitness Challenge

* The classes are given charts with maps and record keeping information

* The classes are given a 20-week period (late October to late March, when the weather is cool enough) to walk that designated distance

* Each teacher is required to send in monthly reports on their class's progress.

Past locations include, Mesa to:
Year 1 - Grand Canyon
Year 2 - Disneyland
Year 3 - Sea World or New York City
Year 4 - Mt. Rushmore
Year 5 - Washington, DC
Year 6 - Chicago

In 6 years the program has grown from 6 classes (40 students) -- to this years - total of 60 classes (530 students). In the first 5 years of the program our special needs students have walked over 68,000 miles during the school day.

To start the challenge we host a "Fitness Challenge Kick-Off" at a local park. Students gather at the park and walked the first mile of the challenge together.

The students who participate have disabilities ranging from; severe to mild, autistic to learning disabled, blind to emotional, physical to mental and many disabilities in-between.

Some students use pedometers while they walk. The teachers are then able to incorporate math into the challenge. I encourage each teacher to work the challenge into their daily curriculum. Whether they use it with language, map reading, goal setting, math, letter writing or wherever their students would find the most benefit.

On two different Fridays in April, we host a celebration for every class that participates in the challenge. Each student will receive prizes for their efforts while some will earn special awards for being the: classes most inspirational walker or the classes most mile walker. The top four classes at the elementary and secondary level also receive special class awards.

For the past four years I have been able to provide medals to each and every student for their hard work. The medals, for the most part, have been donated from people that have heard about the challenge and have given their own hard earned medals to these very special students. I have received medals from more than 9 different states. Last year the Grand Canyon State Games donated enough medals for every student to receive a medal. Prizes were also donated by the Arizona Cardinals so every student could receive a "Bobble Head" and an AM/FM Cardinals radio.

I believe this is a wonderful program. Over time it has proven itself to provide students and teachers with opportunities for fitness and academic learning they would not have realized otherwise. It has truly given our students the goal of making fitness a part of their day.

Teachers are provided with a poster and on the poster is a map of the USA with the path and destination, the distance of the challenge, the record sheets, the first newsletter, and a walking poem.

Each teachers turns in their class information, teacher
name, grades, disablility category and number of students participating.

Elementary and secondary age students are recorded seperatly to ensure fairness.


Some teachers have been provided with exercise video tapes that can be used right in the classrooms. Teachers are able to use these on days when the weather is not cooperating. The tapes are at a level that the special education can follow and be successful.

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Posted on PEC: 12/14/2005 and has received 54 votes.

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