Claire is 4 years old. She wears peppermint-striped Nikes, tiny glasses and a glittery shirt to class. And she’s one of the toughest instructors at the University of Maine.
From Day One, she has challenged her student, Chloe Tinkler, to think on her feet. To find creative solutions to frustrating problems. To overcome major obstacles.
Claire has Down syndrome and is, for the most part, nonverbal. Chloe is one of 37 students in Stephen Butterfield’s Adapted Physical Education class, a requirement for kinesiology and physical education majors.
When they meet at UMaine’s New Balance Student Recreation and Fitness Center each Wednesday for motor and aquatics lab, they play catch and splash in the pool. It looks like a blast. But look a little deeper and you’ll see this isn’t just fun and games. Together, they’re learning and teaching each other important lessons about empathy, patience and ability.
“You can’t underestimate these kids,” says Tinkler, a native of Wabush, Newfoundland, who plans to become a physical education teacher and coach after graduation. “They have so much potential. They have the same potential, the same needs as any other student, and they can accomplish so much.”
Tinkler says this is the best class she’s taken at UMaine. That’s Butterfield’s intent. He’s been teaching the course for 28 years — it’s modeled after a similar class he helped teach when he was a Ph.D. student at Ohio State University. And for each of those years, the class has been transformational for UMaine students.
“Ninety percent of them, after this experience, are better human beings,” says Butterfield, a professor of kinesiology and physical education. “They come out of this stronger, more confident, with a deeper sense of humanity.”