Keeping up with kids in his physical education classes is not easy, which is why Jason Gradyan prefers to use his wheelchair.
Gradyan is one of 61 adapted physical education teachers in the Clark County School District. He helps dozens of elementary students with disabilities assimilate with their general education peers.
Gradyan, a Henderson resident, rotates to eight schools in the northeast valley. He may modify components of P.E. activities or give some individualized attention within the larger class. Students may need a lighter ball, for example, or to be placed in a less competitive group.
Gradyan can walk, but it is much easier for him to be in his chair.
Gradyan attended Valley High School, 2839 S. Burnham Ave., and graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 2002. Two weeks before graduation, Gradyan fell 40 feet while hiking at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, fracturing his spinal cord.
Gradyan rehabilitated for about a year to regain control of his left leg and partial movement in his right. The injury did not keep him from teaching physical education.
Gradyan was a P.E. teacher at Sedway Middle School, 3465 Englestad St. in North Las Vegas, for two years before slightly altering his path.
"Through working with children with disabilities at that school as a regular teacher," he said, "I decided I wanted to be an adapted P.E. teacher because I really enjoyed working with that demographic.
"I just had really good coaches and teachers in high school. They taught me great skills. A lot of things I learned about life, I learned in P.E. growing up. If I would have been hurt as a 6-year-old kid, I would have needed some help in the beginning."
The biggest success he can have, said Gradyan, is when students do not need him anymore.
"Normally what I would do is teach them ways to modify and advocate for themselves," he said, "so by the time they get to fifth or sixth grade, they can give the teachers their own medications. Ideally we want them to be able to function in P.E. independently."
Adapted P.E. program coordinator Barbara Chambers has been with the district for 30 years and helped make its P.E. program fully inclusive beginning at the elementary level nearly two decades ago.
Gradyan and Chambers said it is better to include these students with their general education peers because they can benefit from each other.
"They really do learn a lot from their peers," Chambers said. "Social skills, interactions. No matter what an adult tries to teach them, they'll learn a lot quicker from a peer than an adult."
Students at Gradyan's eight schools are accepting and encouraging of the kids he works with, too.
"There's no negative attitudes toward them," he said. "You would be amazed at how accepting these kids are of children with disabilities. It's like having a bunch of little moms running after our kids."
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at email@example.com or 224-5524.