While having all of these programs in the school district is an incredible feat and certainly something to strive for, it’s sometimes not feasible for every school and every teacher. James shared that in order to get started you need to “just do it.“ Start small, build up and make it your own. Start your program and then as your kids grow and get ready to enter the next level, build that program. You will see success and then you can do more for your students.”
Tennis ball throw, Olympic Town and friendship. Those are just a few words that may come to mind when you think of a Little Feet Meet. But do you also think of community, disability awareness, skill building and opportunity? James Gunther and Norfolk Public Schools’ Little Feet Meet will paint that exact picture for you.
James, an Adapted Physical Education Specialist who is in his 20th year of teaching and 16th year at Norfolk Public Schools, has worked tirelessly to ensure that his students got the opportunity to participate in a Little Feet Meet this school year. During a time where it was very easy to keep it small or take a step back, James did the opposite. With the help of local college students and teachers in his community, he created a detailed Little Feet Meet PowerPoint that walks students through the activities, demonstrates the activities through videos, offers modifications and alternative supplies that can be found at home, and includes encouraging messages from Norfolk Public School administrators.
Not only did this module create multiple opportunities for students to participate in the Little Feet Meet from wherever they were, it also allowed them to open it up to every school and every student in Norfolk Public Schools for the first time - and 24 schools took part. Schools also incorporated disability lessons and awareness activities through morning announcements, reading groups, Spread the Word: Inclusion campaigns and professional development for teachers.
“There is so much more to it than just doing the stations,” said James. "It’s students learning I can be successful. I can do it. There is a community around me that wants me to be successful and that wants to support all of the different people around me. And it’s also parents learning that there are people around them who want to help their child, but they just don’t know where to go. The Little Feet Meet is that stepping stone for them.”
"It’s students learning I can be successful. I can do it. There is a community around me that wants me to be successful and that wants to support all of the different people around me."
As students with and without ID become more engaged with the Little Feet Meet and its accompanying programs, they start to build skills they carry with them as they transition classes and move on to the Big Feet Meet and Champions Together Unified track & field program. They also share these experiences with their peers and their family, who then want to get involved. As James notes, “This way all students are exposed. It gets the awareness out more and more. Kids will be more experienced in working with all kinds of students and levels. Then we can eventually start moving to where we are truly including everyone. We can only do that when we come together.”
James and so many other teachers across Virginia have faced a challenging year. “You have to have a positive mindset. If not for yourself, then for your students. They need an encouraging face to see.”But what keeps him motivated and in that mindset? “It’s the smiles on the students’ faces throughout the day. And the teachers being exposed to the Little Feet Meet for the first time this year and eagerly asking, ‘What else can we do? What else is available?’”