Ellis School -Small School Award Winner with a Big Mission
Ellis School, located in Atlanta, GA, is a school for children with multiple disabilities and complex communication needs, and the winner of the Small School Award for Georgia’s Spring Activity Challenge. We spoke with Alisa Finkle, the administrative/development assistant for Ellis School, about the benefits, challenges, and rewards of physical activity for students at Ellis.
Fire Up Your Feet: Why did you and/or your school get involved with the Fire Up Your Feet Activity Challenge?
Alisa Finkle: Our director heard about the program and though it would be a great incentive to get some extra motivation for physical activity. It doesn’t take a lot for everyone to contribute a little extra.
What type of physical activity did you track during the Challenge?
We tracked our students’ physical therapy and occupational therapy sessions that incorporate physical activity. We also got the word out to families; they also tracked activity outside of school. Staff tracked activity outside of school as well, things like taking a walk on our lunch break.
How did your students benefit from participating?
Physical activity is really different for our kids because they are profoundly physically disabled, but activity is just as important and meaningful for them as everyone else. Research is just starting to prove that physical activity is important to learning, since our kids have physical limitations they need to work their bodies to organize their brains, to be in a place of learning.
For example, we have a child with cerebral palsy who has physical restrictions on what he can do to move his body, and our challenge is to help him move – such as by taking him to the pool, giving him buoyancy to move his body. He also has a walker that we can put him in where he can move his legs. We’re always challenged to create those kinds of spaces where they can move their bodies, it’s just as important; they need to use their bodies to attend to cognitive and academic tasks.
For staff, we are a small school – the more we are mindful of physical activity, we have the power to influence one another. It’s easy to shape culture in a small group, whether we are going for runs or yoga, it’s powerful to impact each other in that way. We do 1:1 with special needs kids, it’s a very demanding role, and so physical activity is great for stress management and a way to take care of ourselves as well. For families, just being active, we want to be a community that is creating a culture of health overall and wellbeing for everyone. Part of that is being really active.
How were Fire Up Your Feet opportunities were made accessible to all audiences?
We got the word out through social media on Facebook and through internal staff and families. And it’s our bread and butter to adapt everything for our kids to make physical activity accessible to those it’s not naturally accessible for. So we’re all about accessible activities and equipment. We go to a special gym in Atlanta from time to time with different equipment that our students can use that’s accessible for them. One of our students has his own accessible bike, they have walkers that they use, everything we do is tailored to empowering them to be able to do a lot of the same things that typical kids can do.
How will your Fire Up Your Feet cash award help make a difference at your school in terms of physical activity, health and wellness?
We have an ongoing need for adaptive equipment that facilitates physical therapy. For example, pool therapy is great for our students and we could use special equipment and pool toys. We don’t have a playground, but swinging is a great component of sensory integration, getting kids in a space when they are able to learn. We would love to invest in outdoor swings, creating an outdoor space where we can do play and PE.
We at Ellis are thrilled to be recipients of the Fire up Your Feet award! We feel like it is a win-win - a great incentive for our school community to be mindful of how we encourage a culture of physical activity inside and outside of school while winning funds!