Solorio’s P.E. Teacher Creates Inclusive Environment
SCHOOLS | May 10, 2018
Solorio’s P.E. Teacher Creates Inclusive Environment

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Solorio High School’s head football coach and physical education teacher, Matt Erlenbaugh, ensures that his classes are inclusive environments that value diversity. Four years ago he introduced a new elective for the juniors and seniors. The Adapted Physical Education Leaders program provides training so that students enrolled in his class can lead it. They’re also paired with a diverse learner buddy.

“Our buddies in the Severe and Profound program were in the same classes as the general education population so I was kind of running two different classes at the same time,” Erlenbaugh said.

“I saw that it could be a good thing if we could pair up students who wanted to work with students with disabilities, people who were different from them.”

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There are 57 junior and senior leaders and 22 students in the Severe and Profound program.

Sir Walter, left, leads the class.

The class has been running smoothly, Erlenbaugh said, adding that the students take it very serious. They modify or adapt activities/sports to ensure that everyone can participate.

For example, in one class, led by senior Sir Walter Richardson, the students played a version of basketball. They built structures that resembled rims, just set at different levels. For those in wheelchairs, their “buddy” helped them get the ball in.

“I wanted to make sure that everybody could play basketball because it’s playoff season,” said Sir Walter, an Auburn Gresham resident. “We had three rims: a 3-footer, 5-footer and 10-footer for all the buddies to play.”

He credits Erlenbaugh for the success of the class.

“He’s an amazing guy,” Sir Walter said. “He really helped me prepare everything for the class to make sure that everybody’s involved. One of the most difficult challenges is to make sure everyone is included, that no one is left out.”

In the first quarter students learn about the spectrum of disabilities, including thei characteristics. They also learn teaching techniques. In the second quarter they put together lesson plans with goals and practice teaching in small groups.

“It’s not just coming in and doing whatever, it’s really planning so they know what they want it to look like,” Erlenbaugh said.

“I’ll ask the students, what do you want to play and, well if it’s basketball, softball, then I’ll go and show them how I would adapt or modify, or use different equipment, different space, and then they start taking over.”

These skills are preparing this for career and college readiness, he said.

By working in groups, they’re learning patience, critical thinking, and how to adapt to an unexpected situation, Erlenbaugh said.

“There’s always something that pops up; nothing ever goes the way it’s planned,” he said. “In this class, I like it when one of the leaders fails at what they’re trying to do, because if it was just perfect, they’re not really going to be learning. You want them to fail and learn from their mistakes and work their way through it.”

Erlenbaugh jokingly explained that he started his career because it’s like a “family business.”

His brother also teaches P.E. and special education at Solorio. His father was a P.E. teacher and his mother and other brother have experience teaching special education classes. Even his wife works in education as a department coordinator of special education in the suburbs.

Erlenbaugh graduated from Western Illinois University with a degree in physical education and became certified for P.E.

Seeing the students active and happy is one thing that gets him excited for work every day, he said.

“If you just look at the smiles on our kids faces, you can tell it’s a lot better than always being cooped up in a room or having to sit down,” he said.

As a “laid-back” teacher, he said his philosophy is simple.

“I’m not going to jump all over a student for not doing the right thing, but I will help them, guide them to the correct way of doing it,” he said. “ If they do something wrong, we can talk about it, we can figure it out but I want them to learn from their mistakes.”

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