Ketcheson receives $150,000 in funding for adapted youth health programming

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HAPPY improves physical literacy and aquatic skills of young children with disabilities

Leah Ketcheson

Leah Ketcheson, Ph.D., assistant professor and program coordinator of health and physical education teaching, received two grants — $125,000 from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and $25,000 from the Ralph C. Wilson Legacy Funds — to support Healthy Adapted Physical activity Programming for Youth (HAPPY). The initiative seeks to provide accessible and affordable extracurricular health promotion programming for children ages 2 to 5 with intellectual and development disabilities, as well as their families.

“The primary objective of HAPPY is to promote positive trajectories of health and well-being for children with intellectual and development disabilities and their families,” said Ketcheson. “Our hope is that participation in the program will help children improve their overall physical literacy, increase participation in health-enhancing physical activity and enhance their independent aquatic skills. Collectively, these outcomes will enhance participants’ overall health and well-being and reduce rates of accidental drownings across Southeast Michigan.”  

Kindergarten readiness is a growing concern for many stakeholders in Detroit. While readiness is evaluated across several domains among children with disabilities, disparities are greatest when considering overall physical health and well-being. Another health burden facing children with intellectual and development disabilities is the rate of accidental drowning. While evidence-based practices suggest participation in physical activity and instruction in aquatics can mitigate many of these disparities, funding in Detroit for this type of extracurricular programming is sparse. Therefore, efforts to create accessible and affordable out-of-school physical activity and aquatic experiences in Detroit are critical to establish an early trajectory of healthy outcomes for children with IDD and to reduce the risks of accidental drownings.

The HAPPY service delivery model represents a feasible community-based approach, offering an accessible and affordable framework to promote positive trajectories of health among children with IDD and their families. This community approach is an attractive option for urban environments across the nation where there is a high concentration of vulnerable populations residing within a designated geographical region. While the preparation of initial curriculum design and delivery are costly, over time, HAPPY offers a low-cost supplement to traditional medical interventions.

Ketcheson provides Wayne State students who are aspiring physical education teachers with opportunities to participate in the program and apply the knowledge and skills gained in their future roles.

“HAPPY activities engage high-quality Wayne State students, who will work in many different professions where they can initiate and replicate the HAPPY program throughout and beyond Southeast Michigan,” she said. “The majority of health and physical education pre-service teachers who graduate from Wayne State teach in urban districts across Southeast Michigan. The training they receive while enrolled in practicum courses affiliated with HAPPY provides them with a feasible framework for replication within their respective career locations.”

The HAPPY curriculum is also offered as a professional development opportunity for special education teachers and physical education or adapted physical education teachers in school districts and for service providers that offer youth health programming in other settings.

Ketcheson is one of many educators, clinicians, practitioners, evaluators, researchers and community leaders at Wayne State University who are committed to advancing health and social equity at local, regional and national levels through the college’s Center for Health and Community Impact. Its mission is to improve community health and vitality through leadership and advancement of research, programs and policies for healthy living. To learn more about the center, visit