Disabled children in the Alachua Country school district have a new activity to look forward to during gym, thanks to a service group of UF students.
Tennis on Wheels is a student-run, non-profit organization that brings attention to the need of better service and development of disabled students while adhering to the UF pledge of helping the community. Volunteers work with elementary and middle school students with physical and mental disabilities about two to three times a week, teaching the students how to play tennis.
Frances Cordero, co-president of TOW, said the age group the organization works with is extremely impressive, as they learn to improve hand-eye coordination, patience, balance and social skills.
"We teach them skills that most people take for granted every day," Cordero said.
The 45-minute sessions are held at Metcalfe Elementary School and Sidney Lanier-Anchor School during the students' gym period, she said.
Pam Bass, Exceptional Student Education physical therapist at Metcalfe Elementary, says TOW allows children with disabilities to participate in an organized sport that they never had a chance to do before.
"Those students in wheelchairs are able to play a game such as tennis without limitations and not be at such a competitive level," Bass said.
The program also allows the children to be physical and not stationary at their desks all day, she said.
Christine B. Stopka, a UF professor in adapted physical activity, agrees that the program is effective in reaching out to children who are mentally and physically handicapped.
"Their behavior is even better the day they know TOW is coming so that they will be allowed to participate," Stopka said.
The students get to form a real connection and bond with the volunteers, said Ann Goodman, a physical education teacher at Sidney-Lanier Anchor.
"There is a comradeship between my students and the UF students," she said. "It is wonderful being exposed to the program."
Goodman said the friendships the students make with the volunteers are some of the main benefits of TOW.
The volunteers are extremely positive and energetic, and the students love and respond to that, she said.