Spring on the York College campus

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More than a party: How Recreation and Leisure Administration students use activities to build skills, provide social experience

July 21, 2016
Emily Connors
Emily Connors

Every semester, Emily Connors, a York College of Pennsylvania adjunct professor of Recreation and Leisure Administration, takes a group of students to Broadmore Senior Living in York Township. Their mission? Fun with a purpose.

Their time at Broadmore fulfills the requirements for the programming lab and provides hands-on experience in implementing what they learn in the classroom.

It starts with a needs assessment. Students work with residents to figure out what their interests and challenges might be. Many students enter the Recreation program interested in working with kids, says Connors, but working within diverse populations is essential for the major and their futures. Their time at Broadmore provides practical instruction in preparing and implementing a successful program, marshalling resources, public speaking, and working with groups.

“These seniors give us their time and attention for an entire semester. They and the staff at Broadmore provide constant feedback to students and give them an opportunity to learn and improve in the real world,” Connors says.

Students finding fulfillment

After the initial assessment, students implement a program to address resident needs, which can include mental stimulation, physical activity, and, of course, must be presented in a fun way that encourages interest and participation. Students must market and budget for the program while making sure that it is relevant and interesting.

So what do these activities look like? Whether it’s a fashion show, a luau, celebrations for National Potato Chip Day or a paint night complete with wine, Connors’ students are ready to engage and amaze.

While each event is filled with entertainment for the senior residents, it’s also based on what those elderly York County residents need most: an opportunity to connect with their peers, a chance to stretch the imagination, or the challenge of tackling a new, or reviving an old, skill. At the end of the semester, students are also asked to evaluate themselves and think critically on what went well and what could have been improved.‌

Students in the Recreation major at York College are not only having fun building their careers, Connors says, but they’re finding fulfillment in brightening someone else’s day. It’s a gratifying feeling that Connors has experienced many times over after she also graduated from York College with a degree in Recreation and Leisure Administration.

Hands-on experience prepares students

As a member of the class of 1996, Connors was originally a Psychology major.

“My aunt, who was an administrator at a nursing home, saw a description of the Recreation and Leisure Administration major in the course catalog and explained the opportunities I might have in the therapeutic recreation field,” Connors says. “From my first internship, I was hooked.”

That hands-on experience, a core part of the program at York College, is built around applying classroom skills that benefit the college and the community, Connors says.

Event planning with York College’s Spartapalooza

The Special Events Programming course that Connors teaches every Fall semester focuses on one event the college is known for: Spartapalooza. The fun-filled day welcomed more than 1,300 participants last year who challenged one another in team-building games, filled up on tasty treats and had the opportunity to ride a mechanical bull.

Students taking the course are broken into committees such as marketing, budgeting, food, entertainment and risk management. The committees then plan and implement a particular aspect of Spartapalooza.

“It’s a lot of work, but the gratification is one of the best things about the event,” Connors says. “Our students get to see their efforts pay off in the happy faces of everyone who comes out.”

Getting out of the classroom to help others

Connor’s spring course Meeting Children’s Needs Through Movement Activities attracts Education, Recreation, and Human Services majors. Students spend half of their time in the classroom and half of their time in the Field House (a large open gym on campus) practicing affordable and easy methods of teaching children important life skills.

“We cover life skills that children need to be successful, like perceptual motor development and listening,” Connors says. “Each week we cover a new skill, how to determine where a child is in mastering that skill and how to teach them how to further develop the skill.”

Then, the students take to the Field House and, using common and inexpensive materials, practice selected movement activities that will engage one child or a group of 35, whether in a classroom or at home. 

Teaching the universal language of play

The Introduction to Therapeutic Recreation course does a lot more than teach students how to design a Recreation program around a disability — it teaches students how to think from the perspective of a disability.

The mandatory course focuses on designing programs and facilities that accommodate people with disabilities while helping everyone feel equal when they participate in a program.

“We want our students to be exposed to all different kinds of physical abilities so they can become advocates for inclusion,” Connors says.

Graduates of the course will enter their Recreation careers knowing about ADA compliance and universal design and are ready to take a stand that anyone should be able to participate.

A commitment to learning, teaching

While she spends most of her time teaching the next generation of Recreation professionals, Connors is still improving on her own skills. With plans to finish her master’s degree this summer, Connors has her heart set on staying at York College for several years to come.

“I love York College,” she says. “The students are what make it such a great place to be. I get so excited for the great conversations we have and feel so lucky and fortunate to have spent 10 years teaching here. There’s a lot more fun to be had.”