Caroline Grogan, Reporter
Fifteen minutes after class starts, gym teacher Priscilla Schulz, with pen and paper in hand, begins to call out students’ names. “One and a half miles,” replies one student as they unfurl a yoga mat on the gym floor. “Zero point eight miles today,” replies another.
Each semester, a new Gym Buddies class, led by Ms. Schulz, begins tracking the miles the students accumulate while exercising on the treadmills, bikes, and elliptical machines and any exercise they participate in outside of class. Students track their miles in hopes that, by the end of the semester, they will have collected enough miles to go to their own version of Disney World.
Ms. Schulz explains how she created this “field trip” to their version of Disney World. “We get to pick out a Disney movie and then I buy everybody lunch and we have an in-school field trip where we get to go to Disney World,” she said.
Ms. Schulz said she first implemented the idea to end the semester with a Disney World-themed class party about eight years ago. “Every semester, we try to get everybody involved in doing cardiovascular workouts, especially the special needs students who have a hard time making it through the day because of the fitness level,” she said. “We want to encourage them, and the typical students, to do a lot with cardiovascular because it’s so good for you.”
Ms. Schulz started Gym Buddies about 20 years ago to celebrate the differences and similarities of NCHS students. “I was teaching not only adapted Physical Education, but I was also teaching regular Physical Education and I had a class of students who weren’t particularly fond of participating,” she said. “So what I said is let me take these students and join them together and see what happens.”
According to Ms. Schulz, the test run of this new class was very successful. “The students who were there and didn’t appreciate Physical Education, they loved working with the special needs students and they formed such a bond that not only was formed during class but then carried over outside of class,” she said. After noticing the impact of this workshop, she presented the idea to the Special Education director, who greatly supported it, and it became an official class. Many people participate in Gym Buddies because it’s an alternative to the regular gym class. Senior Olivia Buckley participated in Gym Buddies the second semester of her junior year and is grateful that she did. “ I think it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was so much fun,” she said.
Olivia, whose older brother has special needs, learned about the class when she was a freshman. “If you do the other clubs like Best Buddies and Caring Crew, you find that a lot of the older students do Gym Buddies and it makes you want to do it,” she said.
Ms. Schulz has high praise for Olivia, who now runs the Caring Crew club and is also a leader in another club bringing social awareness to special needs individuals, the Best Buddies club. “We’ve had a lot of special eleventh and twelfth graders that have come through, but she’s done so much for students with special needs and she embraced the class so much,” Ms. Schulz said. “She’s just a great role model and typifies who I’m looking for to work with these special needs students.”
Olivia said she would recommend Gym Buddies to every student in the high school. “It’s more so to learn that life isn’t only about you and you want to make everyone feel included in their high school experience,” she said. “So if everyone’s more included, especially kids with special needs who are going to be outcasted, they get the same experience as you and it makes the whole entire school a better place to be.”