Playing with a parachute and competing in sharks and minnows for two hours a week has allowed children with disabilities to excel in ways they did not think were possible.

Since its start in 2006, Physical Education Teacher Educators Supporting Physical Activity, Learning and Service, meets once a week for seven weeks each semester. Purdue students and clinicians volunteer to work with children with disabilities aged 3 to 18.

Each session is divided into two hours with the first hour in the pool and the second hour in the gym. Children are assigned their own Purdue student to help them improve different physical or cognitive skills, taught during the session.

Parents have recognized the Purdue students’ impact on their children. Carrie Brose’s 9-year-old daughter, Camryn, has participated in the program since she was 4.

“Working one-on-one with clinicians has really helped her social skills and learning to participate in group activities,” Brose said. “My daughter loves to participate. So as long as the program exists, I will sign her up. The program really is great for everyone involved: the children, the parents and the student clinicians.”

Parent Cari Carpenter has three children participating in the program: Hannah, 17, Christopher, 12 and Anthony, 8.

“We feel so fortunate to live in this community and to have this program bring our children together with Purdue students who may not be majoring in special education, but who nonetheless work amazingly well with our kids. (They) make this program a great way to promote physical exercise with needed social skill practice in a fun and engaging way,” Carpenter said.

The program offers not only activities for children with disabilities, but also the reward of watching the improvements each child makes.

“One little boy who had been coming to PETE’s PALs for four years was able to kick a ball for the first time,” Dr. Kevin Richards, the program’s coordinator, said. “Progress is individual, and sometimes that progress means small steps.”

Participating in the program has also influenced some of the Purdue student volunteers to study physical education.

“PETE’s PALs had a major role in my pursuit of finding a graduate program. At the same time, my involvement in PETE’s PALs was one of the biggest factors that led to (my) being accepted in the adaptive physical education program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse,” said fifth-year senior Steven Holland, of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

Junior Joshua Betourne, also of the College of Health and Human Sciences, got involved with the program last fall and has enjoyed it ever since.

“The first week brought its share of nerves and anxiety due to the unknown, but after the initial nerves and anxiety subsided, interacting with the PALs always left me leaving each night more happy than when I first walked in,” Betourne said.

Students interested in volunteering with the program may contact Kevin Richards by Feb. 14. He can be reached at karich there is an application process and no previous experience with children with disabilities is needed.