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Chico State

Office Hours: Kinesiology Professor Carli Ross

Physical education has always been a big part of Carli Ross’ life. She coached volleyball for over 15 years, currently teaches yoga classes, and is a lecturer for Chico State’s kinesiology program. Through a variety of rich experiences, Ross has developed a passion for adapted physical education specifically.

She is the instructor for one of two BE:WEL programs on campus—an adapted physical education service-learning program for students and volunteers. She has also served off and on for years as an advisor for the kinesiology program’s Autism Clinic.

In 2019, Ross came up with the idea for a study abroad, adapted physical education internship. It became a reality in 2022, when she took a group of Chico State students to Reggio Emilia, Italy, to partner with a nonprofit called Giochiamo Anche Se Triboliamo (G.A.S.T.), which means “we play even if we struggle.”

G.A.S.T., run by the organization’s president, Giacomo Cibelli, is an educational program that helps people with disabilities develop skills and relationships through physical activity and sports. The partnership has been impactful for both the G.A.S.T. participants and the students who have completed the internship.

How did you first get involved with Chico State’s study abroad program?

For me, it was a year of saying, “Yes.” I told myself, I have to start saying yes to things and get out there.

In 2019, I applied for different study abroad programs to teach a variety of our kinesiology courses. I was just applying to everything so I could get out and explore and get back to the things I love.

At the end of April, I got a last-minute invitation to teach in Italy.” I was like, “Yes. I have to say yes.” It was for a course that I had already taught, our Kinesiology 110 course. So, I said yes, and went to Reggio Emilia.

How did you get connected with G.A.S.T.?

For Chico State’s teaching abroad program, University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), you only teach a couple hours a day, so you have a lot of free time. I took advantage of that to network and see what else was out there.

On that first trip, there was yoga in the Piazza one day, the town square, which is so cool. I asked my students to join me and all fifteen of them came. We showed up and with our mats. I looked around at all of these billboard-sized signs of people with disabilities doing sports.

Then I started noticing a lot of the people doing the yoga had different disabilities. I heard they were celebrating eleven years of an adaptive physical education program and I was like, “Okay, I need to find the president of that organization.”

His name is Giacomo Cibelli, and his program was identical to our BE:WEL programs at Chico State. I started volunteering with GAST after my class at USAC. At the end of the summer, we met and created what is now the International Adapted PE Internship.

How do the students spend their time in Italy on these trips?

First, they go through a two-day orientation with Giacomo and the Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and adapted PE teachers of GAST. Adaptive physical activity is what they’re doing—hands-on working with kids and adults with different disabilities.

On Mondays, we were always at the pool. Tuesdays we would drive up into the mountains and hike, rock climb, and we would go to a refuge for lunch. On Thursdays, we would go to this agriturismo and that was kind of an agricultural day. We’d go and pick walnuts and then make alcohol, or we’d go and pick figs to make a jam. The clients were always with us.

We do community events—the students did a Special Olympics type event with G.A.S.T. We also did a bike day with the whole Reggio Emilia community, too.

What is the Reggio Emilia community like?

It’s incredibly close-knit and welcoming. When we first arrive, Giacomo has a press conference with the town mayor. People from the community introduce themselves and welcome us to their city. It’s not really a tourist town, so everybody in Reggio knows who we are the group from Chico State. It’s pretty cool.

Do you have any future plans for the Reggio Emilia internship?

We are currently recruiting for our winter trip. It will be two and a half weeks of hands-on work in the gym and the swimming pool. Then they have a ski camp on Wednesdays and Saturdays where our students can go. If they’re proficient skiers—they will be on the slopes with the kids. If they’re not, they’re going to be down and helping me with different things at the bottom of the slope.

Then there will be a bonus week, where we get to go to the Dolomites for four days and ski or snowboard there while working with G.A.S.T. It’s going to be such a cool opportunity for these students.

Students interested in participating in the winter trip to Reggio Emilia can learn more about the internship online. Students can also follow on Instagram at @ciaocsuchico for future updates and information.