On any given school day in Princeton, you might catch a glimpse of Erynn Murray's car, following its well-worn paths between the six schools in the district. As the adaptive Physical Education" teacher for Princeton Public Schools, Murray serves all students with disabilities, ensuring that every individual gets the most appropriate PE training according to their needs and abilities.
Looking out over the crowded gym at JW on a Friday, which is Physical Fitness day for her students, Murray observes a student who, with the help of a one-on-one aide, has been able to integrate into a regular gym class.
“The goal is full inclusion,” said Murray. “That way the child can be in the least restrictive environment possible.”
“Ms. Erynn,” as she's known to her students, works with children ranging in age from 3 to 21, and is often the teacher who shepherds them throughout their entire school career.
More than a physical education instructor in the narrow sense, her role is unique as a trusted mentor and, for many, a special type of life-skills coach. One of her greatest sources of satisfaction is to teach her students how to do what she calls “lifetime activities,” such as biking, bowling and roller skating.
“I like to teach my students things they can do with their families,” said Murray. Biking, in particular, has led to new experiences and a sense of independence.
“A student of mine went on vacation last summer, and he rode bikes all vacation long,” recalled Murray. “It was the first time the whole family could bike together. It was very rewarding for everyone.”
Marianne Carnevale, mother of Michael, a student at PHS, feels that the adaptive PE program has had a positive impact in her son's life. "Michael has been in the program with Erynn Murray since its inception over ten years ago, and continues to benefit in innumerable ways," she said.
Quite a few of Murray's students have taken their passion for sports and committed themselves to some serious training in order to enter the Special Olympics. There were 10 participants in the fall biking event in October, and Murray expects a good turnout for spring bowling competition as well as the annual track, which typically draws 10-15 athletes and a host of PHS volunteers.
Of all the sports, activities and lessons that Murray offers, what are the most popular? It varies, says Murray. “They are people first, with their own likes and dislikes. Some of my students love soccer, some basketball.” For Murray, the main thing is that these skills lead to enrichment and newfound experiences. A special memory she has is of a 5K she ran with a student and his mother.
“All three of us ran the race together,” recalled Murray. “His goal is to continue running for the rest of his life.”