Acadia S.M.I.L.E. - New programs, community support enlarge the house that Jack built
It’s practical, impactful and in its prime
Acadia University’s S.M.I.L.E. (Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience) program, inaugurated by Professor Jack Scholz and currently directed by Dr. Roxanne Seaman, has been active for 30 years and shows no signs of slowing down.
In fact, the program continues to flourish and has expanded to encompass broader community aspects and para-sport experiences at the local, provincial and national levels.
S.M.I.L.E. began in 1982. Scholz, a professor in the School of Recreation and Physical Education at Acadia and a nationally acclaimed swim coach, launched a pilot project that gave students the opportunity to provide instruction in perceptual motor activity on a one-to-one basis to children with special needs.
The goal: to provide an environment of play and fun that fostered fundamental motor development for children and youth with varying ability levels and to develop leadership skills for Acadia students that would lead to a lifetime of success.
Participants gain so much
Scholz worked with Kings District School Board special education director Ted Muggah to establish the program and 7 elementary students from the county were involved that first year.
There are now four program days (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Friday nights and Saturday), 250 Acadia student volunteers and up to 220 participants involved. And the great thing is, Seaman says, the program’s mandate hasn’t changed.
S.M.I.L.E. remains “a leadership experience for children and Acadia students in a successful physical activity environment. We develop all different aspects of leadership and use the medium of physical activity to develop those skills.
“It’s still one-to-one and it’s not just the children who gain so much. The Acadia students change, too,” she said. “They grow as much as the children. They react, think and respond to unique situations. So many different things are happening at so many different levels and we use the medium of safe, physical activity to develop leadership skills.”
Seaman was a S.M.I.L.E. volunteer from 1994-96 as a Phys. Ed. student and she recalls Scholz saying, “if we could break barriers, students will know there can be adaptations and acceptance for people from all walks of life.” He died of leukemia in 1995.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Physical Education from Acadia in 1996, earned a Master’s degree at Memorial University in Newfoundland and her Ph.D. in adapted physical activity from Texas Women’s University. Seaman has been at Acadia as a professor for the past nine years and director of the S.M.I.L.E. program for eight.
Adapted physical activity was the premise under which S.M.I.L.E. was developed, she says, and when Scholz died his son-in-law, Patrick Murphy, took over.
When Seaman returned to Acadia in 2001, Murphy asked her because of her educational background and history with his father-in-law if she would take over the program. She agreed.
“It was a great opportunity to keep the same vision,” Seaman says. “I was a program leader with Jack and it has worked out wonderfully.”
Looking for something more
Seaman has taken S.M.I.L.E. to new heights, including the addition of para-sport components such as sledge hockey. “Some youth with physical disabilities would stop wanting to come when they hit pre-adolescent years,” she said. “Some felt they wanted more sport than recreation,” and Seaman identified sledge hockey as an opportunity. With financial support from a Nova Scotia Health Promotion and Protection grant, Seaman purchased sleds and equipment and introduced the sport to potential participants. The Acadia Minor Hockey Association took over the program in 2007 with retired criminal lawyer Bob Lutes of Wolfville as head coach and manager. There are now teams here, in Dartmouth, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. “It’s fantastic and unbelievable,” Seaman said. “All because we had voices in S.M.I.L.E. saying they wanted to play sports.”
Dr. Roxanne Seaman of Acadia’s
School of Recreation Management
and Kinesiology displays a cherished
possession: a photo of S.M.I.L.E.
program founder Professor Jack
Scholz with a program participant.
Solid levels of support
Good things have accrued and a solid network of community outreach and support continues. Seaman says the S.M.I.L.E. program links “very closely with resource teachers in the AVRSB, and educational assistants bring kids to the program each Tuesday and Thursday.
“Families in the community have supported it at all levels, and there is a sponsorship program through which businesses, people and doctors can donate $300 for each program day.”
Martock’s S.M.I.L.E. Ski Challenge started in 2000 and is the program’s annual fundraiser. “That community is a huge supporter,” Seaman said, as is the Craig Foundation and organizations at provincial and municipal levels of government.
However, Seaman says she is constantly beating bushes to ensure sustainability and finances “are my sleepless nights.”
Seaman has worked with the ICE office to register the S.M.I.L.E. trademark, and is discussing the possibility of introducing the S.M.I.L.E. program to other institutions around the world. Regardless, the program works. “It’s an amazing experience for everyone involved and it’s the people involved who make it a success,” Seaman says. It may look like “organized chaos” walking in on a Saturday morning, she adds, “but there are so many smiles. It’s an immediate ‘see-the-difference’ kind of thing and there’s a lot of learning going on.”
Text and photo courtesy of Fred Sgambati