Camp Thunderbird: Taking Flight with Dance and Physical Education for Special Populations: This Summer Enrichment Program Improved Participants' Social Skills through Movement Forms and Performance
Keglon, Johnnye, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
The importance of inclusion of all children in schools has prompted dance and physical educators to take a closer look at students with special needs. This "closer look" was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Dallas-based Camp Thunderbird in the summer of 2003 and its implementation through the summer of 2008. This enrichment program brought together minority students in special education and students from general education for a summer of physical activity and the arts. The camp was named after a mythical animal that can take flight with lightning speed to evoke the idea that the children would be able to move more freely than ever before.
Among the camp participants were students who functioned at a high level in the areas of autism spectrum disorders, mental retardation, behavioral or emotional disturbance, and other health impairments including orthopedic and auditory. The curriculum for middle and high school students was similar, and it offered classes in drama, social skills, computer literacy, and job preparation (American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation, 2009). This program was featured on the local television channel School Zone Dallas in 2006 and again on Univision KUVN Channel 23 (Spanish station) in 2007.
While one of the original goals of Camp Thunderbird was to offer an enrichment program, students' individualized education program (IEP) goals were subsequently linked directly to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Physical Education standards and to social skills. In addition, the goal of "reverse inclusion" remained intact as more general education students sought admittance to the summer program. General education students were screened as thoroughly as students with disabilities before being invited to participate. Secondary general education students volunteered and were credited at their respective schools for community service. As reported in the Dallas ISD Communicator (2004), Thunderbird was also one of the major summer training sites for candidates enrolled in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) Alternative Certification program.
Meeting the National Standards
One of the administrator's responsibilities was to evaluate program effectiveness to ensure compliance with Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) and DLSD goals. The assessment of Camp Thunderbird outcomes revealed that students with various disabilities had developed social skills, retained relevant information, and performed tasks that they typically had perceived themselves as being unable to perform. All of the components of "principles of learning" were present during the four- to six-week programs. The staff also demonstrated high and clear expectations for students to become more independent as they progressed from class to class and in their general interaction with staff and peers. All students were expected to follow the same rules and the consequences for intentional violations or rule infractions were also the same for all participants.
The national standards for dance education (National Dance Association, 1996) were easily achieved through the Thunderbird program, especially standard one, "movement elements and skills in performing dance" (p. 20), and standard three, "understanding dance as a way to create and communicate meaning" (p. 21). All of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education standards (NASPE, 2004) were also achieved, especially standard five, which focuses on participating in physical activity and "exhibiting personal and social behavior that respects self and others in physical activity settings" (p. 11).
The instruction was rigorous, with students being challenged to learn songs, structured movement, dance routines, and PowerPoint processes in a shorter time than would usually be required in a structured classroom. Communication and understanding among teachers and students about plans for daily activities and their concluding performance were emphasized. …