Professor's semester abroad focuses on students with disabilities

Tuesday, May 5, 2020
professor Michelle Grenier during her semester in Latvia

It’s not just students who have the opportunity to study abroad at UNH. During the fall 2019 semester, associate professor of kinesiology Michelle Grenier was invited to travel to the Latvian Academy of Sports Education in Riga, Latvia. Grenier’s research focused on working with students with disabilities in educational and sports settings in environments that are dramatically different from those in the United states. She was able to work in a local school that focused exclusively on serving students with disabilities. Not long after she arrived, the school began to feel like a second home.

About 30 years ago, Latvia gained independence from Russia. There is still a strong Russian presence in the country, and disabilities are generally seen through a very medical lens, and individuals with disabilities are often stigmatized. In Latvia, students with disabilities attend a separate school, where all students have a disability, which contrasts more inclusive schools in the United States. With the assistance of a graduate student, Grenier interviewed students and faculty, gaining insight on their experiences in school and around physical education. She met many incredible students, including Oscar, a high school student who has an intellectual disability. Oscar learned English from watching YouTube videos, and was able to translate Grenier’s English to Latvian for his classmates.

"We are fortunate as teachers to have opportunities to experience how other countries and cultures deal with issues involving adapted physical education and activity."

Grenier had the opportunity to study a wheelchair tennis program – not only from the perspective of student participation, but also that of parents as well as the program director, who herself is disabled. In Latvia, there are few opportunities for youth to participate in sports, particularly disability sports. The wheelchair tennis program was one of few such programs offered, and Grenier says she immediately noticed the importance to students and their families. There is an urgency for parents to find empowering programs for their children, and often more struggles to overcome than in the United States. Grenier interviewed one woman who assists her grandchild out of her apartment and into a taxi to get her to the program. The program director’s strong advocacy for these children and desire for them to succeed is evident, says Grenier.

The National Consortium of Physical Education for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPEID) focuses on advocacy and education for students with disabilities, particularly on physical education, and is designed to support teachers and their students. The adaptive physical education community is vast and strong, and Grenier says the network was able to help her find connections internationally, and it continues to work to provide meaningful education opportunities.

“We are fortunate as teachers to have opportunities to experience how other countries and cultures deal with issues involving adapted physical education and activity. As an organization, NCPEID’s advocacy efforts on behalf of individuals with disabilities have been a key factor in our nation's progress towards improving the lives of those we serve.” 

Grenier stresses the importance of international travel, noting the significance of working with individuals who offer their unique experiences as a way to enhance knowledge. “Faculty are lucky to have sabbatical and this knowledge exchange,” she says.

Back at home, Grenier was also the 2020 recipient of the New Hampshire Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance 2020 Meritorious Achievement Award. This award recognizes New Hampshire’s finest educators and outstanding contributors to the association, who work to encourage healthy lifestyles.

  • Written By:

    Kyra Shumway | College of Health and Human Services