Dearborn special needs students learn fitness, independence

A Dearborn teacher takes her students to a different kind of classroom.
You think going to the gym is the place to exercise - but it goes way beyond that for a group of local students with special needs.

For them the gym is the perfect environment to learn social skills, responsibility, and independence - while working up a sweat and discovering new muscles.

There is nothing unusual about what is happening at this Planet Fitness gym in Dearborn - but what's extraordinary is how young adults are changing their bodies and changing attitudes. 

They are students with cognitive and perhaps physical challenges in Dearborn Public Schools' Transition Class. 

Transition teachers teach students who are 19 to 26  how to transfer from school life into adult life. 

Teacher Debbie Camp thought what better place to learn real world skills than the gym.

"From check-in to social skills, dealing with people who are here, gym etiquette," she said. "It makes them very independent. So it's a lifelong skill that they're learning that they're going to take with them the rest of their life." 

"I like the treadmill," said Olivia, a transition student. 

FOX 2: "Does it make you feel strong and healthy?"

Yes, it does," Olivia said. While they get physically stronger they also are gaining confidence. 

"Make you strong, make you healthy, make you lose weight," said another student. "I like that, I want to make my brother proud of me/"

Planet Fitness is the gym based on a "judgement free zone."  

"Everybody feels comfortable when they come in here," said a Planet Fitness employee.

Camp's goal is to make sure her students know  being fit is good for your body and good for their soul. 

"It's very characteristic of them to lead very sedentary lives," Camp said. "Typically they go to school, they go home and sit. That's one of my goals is to keep them more active, learn these skills, learn that it's fun to be here, it's fun to be here with friends and they build friendships." 

Camp says just learning how to be responsible for your stuff with a key and a locker - that in itself can be a great life lesson. 

And they're doing  it all while getting healthy.  

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