An Interview with Bill Price, Adapted PE Pioneer
"I never liked the term" adapted physical education,’ declares Bill Price. “I don’t like the concept of modifying physical education activities for any reason.”
In addition to co-founding the I'm Special Program, which has created and disseminated adapted PE instructional videos and printed material to PE teacher candidates and schools around the U.S. since the mid-1980s, Price is Program Coordinator, Adapted Physical Activity Programs and Elective Physical Activity Programs, University of South Florida.
"I believe all physical education teachers should be teachers of all kids," Price stresses. "PE is for everyone".
The Bad Old Days
After growing up in Indiana, Price entered a small Florida college in 1960. "I was pretty ignorant back then," he remembers. "The college never mentioned anything to me about a draft board. The US Army didn't know where I was, so the school helped them out." After just two years, Price received the same "Greetings" letter from the Army that heralded the induction of millions of his contemporaries into the armed forces during the Vietnam War.
Price "spent some time in "the Nam," returned to "the world" of civilian life, got married and elected to return to college, this time the University of South Florida, on the GI Bill.
"When I was admitted into USF undergrad, my professor/mentor was interested in adapted physical education," Price recalls. Adapted PE was a new field in the 1960s, he remembers. Dealing with kids with disabilities was a fairly primitive endeavor. "Back then, the three levels of mental retardation were 'idiot, imbecile and moron.' I tell my students that now and they cringe in horror, as well they should. We were so ignorant, but we had to start somewhere."
An Individualistic Philosophy
A field internship, Price says, "put me in the schools every day for two years - a priceless experience for someone just starting out."
That internship blossomed into an undergraduate degree and graduate work at USF. "Some experts advise against a student doing all of his or her academic course work at a single university, but I asked myself, 'Why go somewhere else when some the most innovative people in this field were right here, at USF."
His years at USF, Price says, have exposed him to an approach to education that suits him and matches his own. "The philosophy of education here [at USF], which frames the environment I've grown up in academically and professionally, is very individualistic.
That philosophy, he explains, dictates that "I recognize, plan for and am empathetically aware of the fact that each child is different." If an instructor follows that approach then there is no need to call what we do 'adapted PE.' Instead, he asserts, "You can just call it good, sound physical education that services all kids."
"Running Ourselves Ragged"
The I'm Special concept was born in the early 1980s. "It was the brainchild of my two partners" who were USF colleagues. There was a fast-growing need then for in-service education and to prepare pre-teacher students via classroom instruction, fieldwork and workshops. In trying to meet those needs, plus working with kids with disabilities, Price and his colleagues "were running ourselves ragged."
"We thought back then that there had to be a more efficient way to reach as many people as possible beyond what we could physically do. That's when we thought of developing set of special videotapes."
"We Had to Buy a Set of Our Own Tapes"
In the early 1980s Price's two colleagues wrote a grant to the US Department of Education, division of special education, to cover videotape production over a five-year period. Fifteen videotapes were produced. The tapes were designed to be viewed by teachers in-service after the conclusion of the school day. The tapes were only 15 minutes in length but were created to fit a format for instructional TV as well, in 15 and 30-minute segments.
The tapes covered a range of topics and were called, "IMSPECIAL," an acronym for "Instructional Modules: Special Physical Education for Children; Individualized Appropriate Learning." Print material had been prepared to accompany each module.
"The modules were produced on 16mm film first to preserve the color," Price recalls. "We filmed in schools with the kids, using real situations."
The modules were in the can, "but nobody knew about them; the grant we had received provided only for funds to produce the modules, not to disseminate them. We had to buy a set of our own tapes for ourselves!"
Training Sessions at Five Locations, Nationwide
I'm Special's next grant, unsurprisingly, was a dissemination grant. A follow-up grant provided for training educators around the U.S. I'm Special set up five 21/2- day training sessions at five locations across the nation. Invitations were extended to non-Florida state physical education coordinators and special education coordinators as well as university special education and physical education teacher preparation coordinators.
Recalls Price, "We trained a large cadre of professionals to use our videotapes in county in-service education, in state resource systems and in universities that used them for education students and teacher candidates. We trained a large number of people in the three-plus years that we had the grant." I'm Special held training sessions at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, in Tampa for the Southeast states and Puerto Rico, in New Orleans and in Salt Lake City.
"It was a substantive learning experience for all participants," notes Price, "plus the grant paid for every participant to receive a complete set of videotapes with permission to duplicate the copyrighted material."
The training sessions, combined with the dissemination of I'm Special training tapes by physical education teachers themselves, spread the word among field professionals with an interest in adapted physical education that there was a better, more efficient and more "individualistic" way to teach adapted PE.
Enter a Benefactor: Civitan
Back in Tampa, the local Civitan organization approached I'm Special and offered to help. The local Civitan clubs connected I'm Special to the International Civitan headquarters, resulting in a grant to disseminate an I'm Special newsletter. Another grant from a Tampa Civitan funded in-state Florida teacher training using the same premise as the earlier nationwide training sessions but in a one-day session.
Says Bill Price, "Civitan has been very helpful in perpetuating the I'm Special series, so we created a Web site and other print material and gave Civitan credit for providing the funds. I wrote about 10 booklets that were produced and distributed free of charge. We created high visibility displays that also gave Civitan credit, because now we're called the Civitan I'm Special Project." Initial funding support came from North Central Civitan, but I'm Special now exists under the Tampa Metro Civitan organization.
"I Wanted Racing Chairs!"
Tampa Metro has been "very generous," Price explains. "I've been wanting wheelchairs for a number of years for my PE teacher training classes. All I had were a couple of old, rickety institution-type chairs. I wanted racing chairs!"
Civitan, says price, was able to provide funding. "I was hoping for three chairs. I walked away with eight, thanks to Civitan's generosity." Sports chairs, he explains, range in price from $1,200 to more than $3,000 apiece. "I was so excited about those chairs because I want to start a wheelchair basketball intramural program at USF." Negotiations for that program, he adds, are well underway with USF officials. "It'll be a league in which anybody can play - anybody!"
Price coordinates university-level activity courses for the entire USF student body. These activity courses include golf, racquetball and tennis. He is interested in advocating wheelchair sports, like basketball, that any student can take. In addition to basketball, these activities could include racquet sports and track and field, among others. "All I need is a few more chairs!" Bill price declares.
"All of this," he asserts, "is made possible by the I'm Special project - and we try to perpetuate the I'm Special approach." I'm Special videotapes are now available on DVD. They are now part of the USF Physical Activity for All program that, in turn, was originated from a later grant. "Believe it or not, we're still getting orders for the original I'm Special videotapes from the 1980s. Of course those videos are dated now in some respects." The content holds up, "but the 1980s hairstyles don't!"
According to Price, I'm Special videotapes have been distributed in at least 48 states and 19 countries. "Hardly a week goes by when I don't hear from someone overseas who has accessed the Civitan I'm Special website and wants either additional information or video or print material." There has been so much mileage gleaned from I'm Special training material, Price insists, "and it would be illuminating just to see and measure the actual impact of that material on the lives of teachers and students who have used that material and have benefited from it."
Training, Training, Training
Before coming to USF, Price says that he taught PE in special centers for years. "Sending kids to those centers is very expensive and many mild to moderately mentally disabled youngsters are now in regular schools." Special centers, he adds, are maintained to accommodate children with severe to profound mental disabilities and those with special respiratory needs. Earlier, he remembers, adapted physical education was designed exclusively for use in special centers, but no longer.
The biggest issue he and others in his profession face, he declares, is "how do you include kids who have more diverse needs than others in PE classes?" The solution, he asserts, is training. "A good quality teacher education program is designed to help PE teachers learn how to teach all kids." His USF students, he says, "leave here with that approach firmly embedded. They get the same philosophy in every teacher prep class here at the university." Sometimes, he jokes, students complain about the repetitive message. "They say, 'We hear the same thing in every class.' Well, yes, they certainly do!"
Looking forward, he'd like to see the "anybody can play" approach adopted everywhere. "We're inching toward that," he asserts, but public - and university - perception of the role of physical education is hampering progress toward that goal.
"Members of the general public base their understanding of the value of PE on their own experiences," he observes. "They may have had some bad experiences with PE or believe that it's overly game-oriented or athletics-oriented." The profession, he says, is still fighting that perception. Teaching physical education "is the only profession I know of where, after 35 years in it, a professional still has to justify the importance - the value—of what he or she does."
Physical education continues to be regarded as game-oriented, even by universities. "As long as we've been here [at USF] we have been part of the College of Education, but we share a building here with the Athletic Department. I've had people say to me, 'I didn't know that physical education had professors."
Spreading the Seeds
Among in-service PE teachers, Price notes, there is a need for reorientation regarding the value of adapted physical education. He has conducted "hundreds" of training sessions for in-service PE teachers. "I usually begin each session by talking about my philosophy. There's always a small handful in every audience that eats up that philosophy." The response of the majority of most audiences, he claims, is "Entertain me but don't tell me anything that I'm going to have to change."
They listen, he says, and then realize that change is required, "that I don't treat every kid the way Bill Price thinks I need to treat them." Consequently, he notes, "those listeners turn off" - but there is always a small group that becomes animated with interest. It is those animated listeners, Price says, who will plant the "anybody can play" seeds in their home districts. Those PE teachers, he predicts, are the future of adapted physical education. "They are the ones who will continue to push forward long after I'm retired. They make my profession fun, rewarding - and meaningful."