Professor Conducts Physical Activity Workshops for Children with Visual Impairments

Friday, March 21, 2014 By Jennifer Russo

The third workshop on March 30 will have an aquatics theme.

Luis Columna, associate professor of exercise science in the School of Education at Syracuse University, is conducting a physical activity program titled “Physical Activity for Families of Children with Visual Impairments.”

This program is supported by the J. Henry & Martha E. DeBoer Fund at the Central New York Community Foundation and the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation, which provided funding for sports and recreation equipment for the families and children in the program.

Through the workshops, Columna is working with 18 families to develop and track the motor skills of children ages 4-18 with visual impairments. The workshops also provide families with the tools and skills necessary to continue motor development at home and school. Columna is assisted by a team of undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Education’s physical education and exercise science programs, as well as by adapted physical education and orientation and mobility experts from around Central New York.

Columna hopes to educate Syracuse University students, area teachers, children and their families through participation in this new and exciting program. “If our students get a chance to work with a child with visual impairments, they’ll have the skills now for their future professional practice,” Columna says.

“This is an innovative four-part program that includes a qualitative and a quantitative research component,” adds Columna. “I want to explore the effects of activity participation on the children and their parents. Also, I am interested to learn how this collaborative work influences the teachers helping with the workshops.”

Each workshop in this program has a different theme: the first, held on Nov. 24, 2013, was focused on orientation and mobility; the second (Feb. 9), on physical activity and motor development; the third (March 30), will have an aquatics focus; and the fourth (TBA), on sports. The fourth workshop will be outdoors, weather permitting, or indoors utilizing SU facilities.

The children are grouped by degree of visual impairment and age, which makes maneuvering through workshop activities developmentally appropriate and challenging. Each workshop includes a lesson for parents while their children play with other children with visual impairments. Then, the parents are provided guided practice for their new skills with their children from professionals and the students they mentor.

Between workshops, parents and children are encouraged to continue their participation at home using equipment donated by the program. Most of the equipment is sport-related, including balls, kneepads and goals.

Brittany Stagnitta is one of Columna’s teaching assistants, earning her master’s degree in teaching and curriculum with a focus on adapted physical education. “It has been a joy to see the kids go home happy with the equipment they receive at the end of the session. The children begin playing with it before they walk out the door,” she says.

Each child was assessed on their motor (e.g, running, catching, throwing) and aquatic skills at the beginning of the program. “We will perform this same assessment during the last session to check the children’s progress,” Stagnitta says.

Teachers will be interviewed on how competent they felt working with children with visual impairments, and parents will be interviewed on how competent they felt playing with their visually impaired children. Columna hopes that both parties will feel more confident and have greater self-efficacy. Results will be utilized for future programming for families and academic dissemination.

Columna designed the program to focus on the children living with visual impairments, and to provide support for families and teachers of these children. “It takes a lot of effort to orchestrate a program like this, but the rewards are priceless,” he says.

One parent commented that the benefits are worth the effort. “We have loved implementing the instruction methods demonstrated at your last session. We’ve been focusing on catching, and we’ve seen huge improvements in our son’s ability and his confidence. Your program will make a huge difference for the children and families if there is follow through on the family end,” she says.

Luis Columna

Luis Columna

Columna has long been an advocate for social justice and diversity issues. His scholarly work and service activities have focused on improving physical activity opportunities for children with disabilities, particularly in Hispanic families.

At the national level, Columna has served on numerous committees within several organizations, including the Social Justice and Cultural Diversity Committee for both the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, and the National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education. He is the first Hispanic to be the chair for the Adapted Physical Activity Council. Columna is a sought-after speaker and researcher.  He has given more than 50 workshops and presentations at state, national and international levels.

Columna says he is pleased to have the support of SU and such local organizations as the Central New York Community Foundation and the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation to provide programming in upstate New York.

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