CWU students travel to Ireland to teach inner-city girls physical literacy

  • November 20, 2023
  • David Leder

Opportunities for physical activity can be hard to come by for people who live outside the U.S. As a group of CWU students discovered over the summer, many Americans don’t realize how good we have it.

Looking to provide his students with some first-hand knowledge of the disparity between the U.S. and other countries, Associate Professor of Physical Education and School Health (PESH) Stefan Ward accompanied 10 students from a range of academic disciplines to Ireland in August.

Through a partnership with CWU International Studies, the Teaching and Learning in Ireland cohort partnered with Ciaran Duffy, the director of Project Fun Direction, which puts on a series of summer camps for inner-city girls in partnership with Dublin City University.

Ward was accompanied by CWU Sport and Movement Studies Professor Rob Perkins for the 24-day study abroad program.

ireland-study-abroad-main-6.jpg“Most girls there don’t have physical education until they are 13 or 14, and some younger kids don’t get anything at all. Some places don’t even have playgrounds,” said Ward, who took four different groups of CWU students between 2016-19 and returned for a faculty-only trip in 2021.

Project Fun Direction teaches fundamental skills like throwing, kicking, and dribbling to inner-city girls so they can develop basic athletic ability that will benefit them later in life. Ward explained that the primary goal of the program is positive youth development.

“What we did was more about physical literacy than teaching a specific sport,” he said. “For example, we worked on dribbling skills with soccer balls and taught the kids how to kick the ball, rather than how to play soccer. We also worked with them on jumping, stretching, dancing, and breathing exercises.”

Ward noted that most physical education programs in Ireland are geared toward boys, so most female students don’t even know how to do something as simple as playing catch. Project Fun Direction gives them the confidence and muscle memory they need to feel more socially integrated.

“A lot of girls in Ireland aren’t even shown basic athletic skills in school, so it’s a lot harder for them to catch up once they get to high school,” Ward said. “These camps provided them with the basic skills they need to build confidence. They may not become a star soccer player, but at least they can kick the ball.”

ireland-study-abroad-main-7.jpgAnother key benefit of Project Fun Direction is that it gives girls a chance to be active and social for five or six hours a day. Some come away from the camp with a new passion.

“The kids really immersed themselves in it,” Ward said. “They may not have even known they were interested in a certain activity before the camp, and working with us gave them a great opportunity to connect with new interests.”

The Irish children weren’t the only beneficiaries. Ward’s students also gained valuable teaching and professional experience to put on their résumés. The CWU group had a ton of fun right alongside their new Irish friends.

“It was reciprocal, for sure,” he said. “Our students had the opportunity to teach in a foreign country and boost their teaching repertoires. We taught kids from all over the world through this camp, and it really helped our students expand their horizons.”

Angela Kyle was among the CWU students who traveled with Ward to Ireland. The School of Education graduate student, who is working toward a career as a higher education instructor, said she has missed interacting with students since earning her bachelor’s degree from Central in 2020. It turned out the Ireland trip was exactly what she needed.

“My focus is higher education, so there is a lot of reading and research in my program,” said Kyle, a neotraditional learner who started college in 1996 and decided to finish her education after raising a family. “I used to work with younger students, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I went on this trip.”

ireland-study-abroad-main-4.jpgIn addition to gaining valuable overseas teaching experience, Kyle also received credit toward her accessibility certification for graduate school.

“I have a passion for accessibility and inclusivity, so I’m glad I was able to add this experience to my training,” she said, adding that her 23-year-old son, Preston—a former CWU student—has epilepsy and she wants to advocate for people like him when she becomes a full-time educator.

Now that Kyle is in the final stretch of her college career, she looks forward to taking what she has learned in Ireland and in the College of Education and Professional Studies to start a new chapter in her life.

“I originally saw this study abroad program when I was an undergrad at Central, and I just held onto the dream, hoping I could go at some point,” Kyle said. “Everything worked out perfectly, and I’m so glad I got to do this.”

Ward added that the other students who traveled to Ireland came away with similar feelings of accomplishment and excitement. The group mostly consisted elementary education majors and PESH students, but this year’s cohort also included a special education major and an information technology student.

“I just want my students to get as much value as they can out of it,” Ward said. “They can use it as practicum experience and to earn credits. But they also get to live in a foreign country for a month and interact with a wide variety of people. I’m already looking forward to taking a new group next year.”

If you are interested in signing up for the 2024 installment of Teaching and Learning in Ireland, email stefan.ward@cwu.edu or steven.cook@cwu.edu.

 

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