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Students discover career path via field experience

Mallory Swanson and Jessica Anderson, both students in the University of North Georgia's physical education teacher certification program, congratulate a Lumpkin Special Olympics participant. The program is housed in UNG's College of Education.

While an interest in exercise and sports brings students to the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, many students like junior Jessica Anderson find their true calling as an educator through the variety of field experiences provided by the department.

"Once I got to interact with children and see the importance behind physical education and how it helps students inside and outside of the classroom, I decided that was my passion and that's what I wanted to do," Anderson said. "I hope to pursue a master's degree in adaptive physical education so I can work specifically with Special Olympics and special-needs classes. It's our job to find what makes it easiest for them, what's going to benefit them the most so that they can succeed throughout the rest of their lives."

All student-teachers are required to complete hundreds of hours of field experience, which often involves activities outside of the classroom for physical education candidates. Anne Forrest Prim, an assistant professor in UNG's College of Education, said experiences like assisting with the Lumpkin Special Olympics helps content and pedagogical knowledge "come to life" for her students.

Cindy Savage, left, and Anne Forrest Prim, center, award gold, silver
and bronze medals to winners during the Lumpkin Special Olympics.
Savage, a UNG alumna, is an internship supervisor and Prim is an
assistant professor in the College of Education.

"Physical education teacher candidates must be prepared to teach all students in the wide spectrum of abilities and skills in public school," she said. "Participation in the Lumpkin Special Olympics gives UNG students the opportunity to apply what they have learned about how to adapt instruction and engage students in meaningful interactions. With the belief that all children can learn, the program prepares teacher candidates to help all children gain the necessary knowledge, skills, and desire to be active throughout their lives no matter their abilities."

UNG's participation in Special Olympics each year helps make the event a success, said Dr. Kevin Stewart, an adaptive physical education teacher at Lumpkin County High School and coordinator of the event.

"Much of the success for our local Special Olympic games can be attributed to the assistance from UNG students and faculty," Stewart said. "They were invaluable in helping with the logistics of the day like running events and handing out medals, and the support and encouragement they given to the participants from the UNG contingent was evident, heartfelt, and very much appreciated." 

For parents of disabled students, the event provides a chance to watch their children excel.

"It gives him a chance to be part of a group and play sports when normally he can't do things like school teams because of his disability," said Rusty Lee, a Lumpkin County mother of a disabled child. "Everyone's so accepting and understanding."

Matt Duncan, who lives in Gainesville, Georgia, earned an associate degree on UNG's Gainesville Campus, and then decided to pursue teacher certification in physical education on the Dahlonega Campus.

"I always loved PE growing up and staying active in sports, but I also liked working with kids, so that's what brought me to the UNG program," Duncan said. "It's the joy that I see on their faces when they get that medal or when they throw the ball really far and shout out with excitement."

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