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December 18, 2019

Adelphi Program Promotes Physical Activity for Neurodiverse Students

by Taylor Damian '14

Adelphi University’s Bridges to Adelphi program and the Department of Health and Sport Sciences have joined forces for a collaborative mentorship program focused on promoting comprehensive physical activity for neurodiverse students.

Exercise can be a daunting task, especially for individuals on the autism spectrum. The Active Panther Partners program aims to provide positive movement experiences for students in Adelphi’s Bridges program with help from their peers as part of a course called Physical Activity Coaching.

As a part of the class, each Active Panther Partner, a major from the Department of Health and Sport Sciences, will undergo training from instructors regarding working with neurodiverse students. Each student within the Bridges program is paired with an Active Panther Partner and they meet twice a week to exercise together. Physical activities focus on cardio and weight training, but also include yoga and sports like badminton, pickleball and basketball.

This partnership aims to increase confidence and self-esteem and promote positive attitudes toward physical activity, providing scaffolding for individuals to acquire skills at a recreational level. “The course is repeatable, so we welcome continued participation and encourage students to engage in additional campus offerings and other physical activity and fitness courses,” said Anne Gibbone, EdD, associate professor of Health and Sports Sciences at Adelphi.

For students in Bridges to Adelphi, the program helps create a smoother transition from high school to university settings and promotes a more positive, successful way to be active. The physical activity coaches are learning to better work with a range of differing abilities and neurodiversity.

The Active Panther Partners program, first piloted in 2017, was conceptualized by Professor Gibbone, Paul Rukavina, PhD, professor and coordinator of Adelphi’s Physical Education and Physical Activity Studies programs; Ellen Kowalski, PhD, associate professor of Health and Sport Sciences; and Emilia Zarco, MD, associate professor and department chair of Health and Sport Sciences. The four met with Mitch Nagler, MA ’06, director of Bridges to Adelphi, to bring the program to life.

“This collaborative program highlights how we are able to transform lives through peer mentoring while creating a model for diversity and inclusion,” said Dr. Rukavina.

This fall, 12 Active Panthers (peer mentors) and 14 Bridges students were enrolled in the program supervised by Dr. Gibbone and Jeremy Cash. The program, which will continue in the spring semester, has received grants from Adelphi’s Women’s Giving Circle and the Allison Keller Education Technology Program.


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Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

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