Health Students a CLASS Act Helping Disabled Get Fit

Working with diverse community groups is at the core of becoming a successful public health professional. That's why Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Zi Yan started a program for providing one-on-one fitness training and lessons in nutrition to high school students with intellectual disabilities.

In collaboration with the Citizen’s League for Adult Special Services, known by the acronym CLASS, students in Yan’s public health class volunteer with Andover and Lawrence high school special-education programs to teach physical fitness, collect data and gather feedback. After her students gain experience, Yan often hires the volunteers as part-time program coordinators and instructors to lead the next wave of volunteers.

“The goal is for students to practice educating people on the benefits associated with physical fitness and good nutrition,” said Yan. “But this project takes it a step further and introduces students to a population they may have never worked with before. Merrimack students provide more than physical leadership, they provide social and emotional support as well.”

Aimee Brochu ’18, a senior sports medicine major at Merrimack, started as a volunteer, became a program coordinator and instructor at Andover High School, and now serves as the program coordinator for Healthy Balance.

“I am so thankful for this opportunity to watch the program grow to its best potential,” she said. “It’s great to see when something clicks and a student is able to excel at a certain exercise and reach a new level.”

The collaboration between Merrimack College and CLASS began more than five years ago, originally serving adults with intellectual disabilities in Lawrence. Building on its success, CLASS extended services to adolescents and the current partnerships with Andover and Lawrence high schools.

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