Kids climbing the wall on a rope, walking along a balance beam, jumping on a trampoline, or rolling along the top of a series of air-filled cylinders — it's all part of the fun at Fly Time inside the Minnesota Flyers Gymnastics facility in Detroit Lakes.
The program, which caters specifically to kids with special needs, has grown exponentially since its beginnings three years ago.
"Our first year, it was just one day a week, with kids from Detroit Lakes," says MFG executive director Kari Stattelman. "Now we're up to three days a week, with three area school districts... and we have a group of adults that comes over from the Becker County DAC (Developmental Achievement Center) as well."
Stattelman added that the program expanded this year to include the Frazee-Vergas and Lake Park-Audubon school districts, for the first time.
"We currently have over 175 kids in the Fly Time program — but there is still room for more," she says. "We're working with all the school districts in this area so that all kids, regardless of their (physical and mental) abilities, can come here and experience fun and fitness in our gymnastics facility."
Stattelman added that the program's success was only made possible through the support of the community, from Phil Hansen — who was instrumental in bringing Fly Time to Detroit Lakes — to Becker County Energize and many other partners.
Robert Cox, a special education instructor at Roosevelt Elementary School in Detroit Lakes, says that the program has been invaluable to his students since he first started bringing them to the MFG facility three years ago.
"They learn to play with each other," he said, adding that some of those lessons involve "teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, problem solving, and trying a lot of things they never experienced before."
Fly Time Program Director Mark Gloege "is always thinking of new and innovative skills for them to try," Cox said, "and the whole staff here has been amazing."
Frazee special education teachers Sara Jacobson and Pat Starbeck share Cox's enthusiasm for the program.
"Fly Time has been great for our students!" Jacobson exclaimed. "It gives them the opportunity to expel energy in a positive way, follow multi-step directions, and work on independence while in a structured environment created by Mark Gloege, who understands their specific needs."
"You want to make it fun for them," Gloege said, adding that he tries to change up the activities at least once every couple of weeks to keep the kids motivated and excited about being there.
The activities are designed to stimulate as many of the senses as possible, while targeting different muscle groups, he added.
For instance, Gloege noted, kids love bouncing on the trampoline, but they're also exercising several different muscle groups while they do it. "The trampoline is sneaky fitness," he added.
Cox said that his students' weekly, one-hour Fly time sessions are "their favorite part of the week."
"When it's done, they're always a little disappointed that they can't go longer," he added. "They wish they could come here every day of the week."
"Our students look forward to gymnastics every week thanks to this wonderful program," Starbeck agreed.
Stattelman said that parents and others in the community who are interested in learning more about the program are invited to come and observe one of their Fly Time sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. For more information, please contact either Stattelman or Gloege at 218-847-3637.