Alabama Schweitzer Fellow Building Inclusive Physical Activity Programs for Students with Disabilities

By Jasmine E. Crenshaw

Journeying Into Inclusive Health and Physical Activity

For her Schweitzer project, Emily Munn, a Ph.D. student at Auburn University School of Kinesiology, was inspired by the inclusive swimming program she witnessed during her senior undergraduate work. Since then, Emily’s mission has been to ensure all physical activity and fitness programs are inclusive to all, especially to students with disabilities. Although advertised as such, many existing physical activity programs or initiatives, Emily notes, do not have accessibility built into their programming. It made sense for Emily to work with the South Central Alabama chapter of the organization Girls on the Run (GOTR) for this reason. In addition, Emily saw the need for increasing levels of physical activity among middle -school aged girls. Research shows that the gap in physical activity levels begins to occur between male and female students during middle school, which is what Girls on the Run currently works to change through their Heart and Sole program. Emily knew that GOTR South Central Alabama was the right choice for her community site due to their overall mission of inspiring young girls to be and do their best and celebrating their achievements. Emily explained her project goal as “hoping to facilitate a new love for moving while also promoting self-esteem, inclusion, and friendship.” With GOTR South Central Alabama as a community site partner, Emily is able to incorporate her skillset into creating inclusive programming for her site partner, while learning community-building tools from them. Her site mentor, Lee County program coordinator Lori Marine, noted that their chapter’s goal is to create an inclusive team in Lee County with Emily’s assistance and expertise.

Programming Nutrition and Physical Activity for All

Along with the other Girls on the Run chapters in Alabama and around the country, the South Central Alabama chapter will hold a virtual Fall and Spring 5K event at the end of their season, which will celebrate the accomplishments of its student runners. As a coach, Emily is utilizing a research-based curriculum to help improve the girls’ physical, social, and emotional well-being. Additionally in this role, Emily is addressing aspects of inclusion, physical activity, and healthy decision-making skills during the weekly sessions with her participants. When considering the type of benefits students with disabilities can receive through participating in programs like GOTR, Emily felt that Girls on the Run is an “incredible program thanks to their focus on physical activity and self-confidence”. Emily noted that individuals and students with disabilities receive social support through the completion of fitness or physical activity, which is what GOTR provides at its core. She explained that programs can achieve inclusion through proper resources and guidance about adaptation from both special education and health professionals. By the end of the project period, Emily will have created a guide on inclusion and adaptability for Girls on the Run South Central Alabama so prospective and future participants with disabilities can join and enjoy the organization’s programming. So far, Emily has been able to utilize both her graduate training, including her Masters in special education, and her lifelong love of sports to build this resource.

Adapting Project Plans Due to the Pandemic

As with other Schweitzer Fellow projects, Emily has adjusted her projects due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emily credits her site mentor, Lori Marine, with acquiring program approval. Similar to the online programming produced in Spring 2020 by the national Girls on the Run organization, Emily’s 5K program and weekly meetings will have the ability to be virtual and will have social distancing protocols in place for the girls’ training sessions. Emily’s biggest project challenge has been maneuvering the pandemic, especially when she dealt with uncertainty about her project. Her biggest triumph so far has been recently gaining project approval. Emily has even begun to receive great feedback from parents who are excited for their child to participate in a fall activity. Ms. Marine, her site mentor, even noted that Emily “has been so helpful in our efforts to bring some “normalcy” to girls’ lives right now”. 

Visit for more details about Emily’s project and how your student can participate. You can further support Girls on the Run South Central Alabama through their current fundraiser  “Dinner on The Run”, where citizens in the Lee County or Montgomery areas can purchase a meal to be delivered on Sunday, November 1st. Check their website for more details on how to get involved.