Our first Coach of the Month for January is Jess Wilson. Jess is brand new to Playworks this year, but she’s stepped into Riley Elementary and thrived. Playworks SLC is honoring her not only for the exceptional relationships she’s built with her students and staff, but also for her unique approach to working with special needs students at Riley. Jess makes sure her students with special needs are included in their class game times, and she also holds another class game time exclusively for those students to reinforce game rules and pro-social behavior. Finally, she works with all of her students at recess to make sure everyone is included.
Q&A with Coach Jess
What is your background and experience?
I have been playing and teaching games my whole life. When I was little I used to convince my brothers it was cool to save our money and then plan and put on family parties. This later turned into game nights with friends, working in family camps, and teaching fun things everywhere I could. Eventually I graduated from BYU with a Bachelors degree in Dance, and decided I will never stop playing and will be moving as long as my body will let me.
What drew you to being a coach with Playworks?
This love of play, along with my love of movement and teaching kids led me to Playworks. When I heard the basic job description I was shocked. Even my mom said, "That job was made for you."
What are some highlights of the program at your school?
The play mentality at Riley is changing. If you came to a recess today you wouldn't know that a few months ago half the kids just stood around and talked, or sat alone. The biggest highlight for me is that the kids that really struggled at getting into games at the beginning of the year, are the same ones that now jump in on their own. This has been greatly attributed to class game time because the students get the chance to learn how to play games so that when they go out to recess they know what is up. Also having focused Jr. Coach Trainings has really helped me get the JC's to make a difference and have a purpose when they go outside.
Can you share with us a little bit about the process of building a special needs class game time, and how that process has affected the students at your school?
The most important thing about Special needs class game time is finding out where each student is at individually and meeting them there. Once you know where their skills are, you can build a connection with them which allows you to push them a little farther and help them expand their abilities. Whether that is just inviting them to play, knowing they just won't participate for a while, or just standing and talking with them for a few minutes every week so that they get to know you. Eventually you get to a place where you can convince them to try something new.
When you have a class together with special needs students, you need to be extremely patient because the students can be easily distracted. However you don't want them to know that you are being patient or feel like you are talking down to them. Have high (but achievable) expectations for them and then help them to be successful at meeting those expectations.
The greatest thing to happen so far is after focusing a class game time on Roshambo, I was able to get almost the entire class to play it at recess, even when other students came to join in.
One of the best highlights is that one of my students who used to hang out on the far side of the playground and avoid interacting with other kids at recess, is now playing both 4 square and basketball with other kids! It doesn't happen every day, but she is getting more comfortable and learning that she can play with everyone else!
*Coach of the Month is a non-competitive award we give to our coaches to honor them for running amazing Playworks programs at each of their schools. Coach of the Month can’t be won, it can only be accepted.