The Southeastern Diabetes Education Services had a pressing need this summer. UAB had a way to fill it.

Children enrolled in Camp Sugar Falls learned to monitor their diet, exercise and medication while taking part in physical activities. 

The result was a tremendous service-learning opportunity for UAB faculty and students and a state-of-the-art facility for Southeastern Diabetes Education Services (SDES) to hold its annual Camp Sugar Falls, a four-day camp for children ages 6-15 with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes in which participants learn to monitor their diet, exercise and medication.

UAB hosted the camp in July in the Campus Recreation Center. UAB graduate students in the School of Education physical-education program planned and lead all of the camp’s physical activities, including games and sports such as basketball, T-ball, indoor soccer, kickball, flag football, disc soccer and swimming.

The Lakeshore Foundation has hosted Camp Sugar Falls, but this summer the foundation was an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site and SDES Executive Director Terry Ackley had to find his camp a new home. Lakeshore officials recommended he contact Kristi Menear, Ph.D., associate professor of Physical Education.

“He said, ‘I’ll give you anything you need to make this a learning endeavor for your students if you can help me secure a facility and provide the physical activities for our children,’” Menear says.

Menear says the camp gave UAB students an opportunity to learn about diabetes and ways to manage the health of children with diabetes in a physical-education setting.

“To be able to do it in this format, on a miniature scale before running their own physical education class in a public school with 80 children in the gymnasium at one time, is invaluable,” Menear says. “I’ve been able to see who my student leaders are; I know who’s taking charge on certain activities, and I can see what their strengths are. Everybody’s strengths are going to come to the surface during a four-day period.”

Dawn Wilson, who graduated in August, was the student leader of the camp. The physical-education student had to set the schedule for each day, decide on the activities and provide the proper equipment. She also ensured the physical-education majors knew the rules of each activity and implemented appropriate modifications for the campers’ ages and ability levels.

Wilson, who plans to work with special-needs students in adapted physical-education classes, says experience setting up a camp of this magnitude is important in her own development.

“I’ve organized softball camps before, but this is different,” she says. “It’s been very important to see how much time and how many resources you need to set up a camp like this or even your physical education program. You have to plan well ahead for what you need because you want to be prepared.”

Peter Gamble, a former paraprofessional pursuing his master’s degree and teacher certification in physical-education, says the other bonus for UAB students has been learning about diabetes.

About 1 in every 400 children has Type 1 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, and that number is increasing. The likelihood Gamble and other teachers will encounter students with diabetes is growing.

“To have this opportunity to learn more about what kids with diabetes can do rather than focusing on what they can’t do is good,” Gamble says. “It’s good for us to learn more about the issues they face, and it’s good for them to learn they can be physically active. They just need to monitor their blood sugar.”

First-time host
The mission of SDES is to motivate people with diabetes and their families through education and social and recreational experiences in a safe and nurturing environment. SDES has conducted Camp Sugar Falls for four years in Birmingham and expanded the program to Mobile in 2007 and to Montgomery this year. 

“Terry and the SDES nursing director came to one of my summer-school classes and they gave a two-hour presentation on how to manage diabetes,” Menear says.

“They told us what the children needed during physical education, they brought an insulin pump, offered to prick our fingers and check our blood sugar, showed us what a sugar pilled tastes like and advised us on ways to manage diabetes during physical activities. They brought things to us I couldn’t have provided.”

Ackley says the partnership was a success.

“Dr. Menear and her students were very helpful to us in designing and implementing a fun physical-education and recreation leisure program that fully engaged the students,” Ackley says. “UAB’s students helped Camp Sugar Falls children understand the importance of physical activity and learn that it can be enjoyable.”

Future with UAB
Both parties hope to expand the camp in 2009, and Menear hopes to engage students from other disciplines. This year’s camp also included volunteers from the schools of Nursing and Medicine.

Menear is interested in developing a research project from the camp. Gamble took on a special project prior to the camp, developing a fact sheet for physical educators and coaches to help them have a better understanding of students and athletes with diabetes.

“We’re trying to determine what more we can do from a standpoint of scholarly activities,” Menear says. “Do we have a model program or something we can ask a research question of in the future? We certainly want the collaboration to continue because of what all of our students gain from it.”

Menear is planning a meeting in early September to secure collaboration from other interested disciplines across campus. Contact her at or 975-7409 to learn more.

More courses integrating service-learning component

A growing number of UAB courses are incorporating service-learning pedagogy to combine classroom instruction and community experiences. Instructors select partnership sites to meet learning goals in the same way they would select a textbook, and these community partners become colleagues in service-learning through collaboration and reciprocity that meets the course objectives and community needs. 

Norma-May Isakow, director of the Office for Service Learning, says students and faculty involved in service-learning courses report an enhanced appreciation both of community issues and assets. 

Some of the courses offered this fall include:
• Peer Education, incorporating the principles and skills underlying the SHAPE training developed by the UAB 1917 Clinic, is led by Retta Evans, Ph.D., associate professor of Health Education in the School of Education.
• Impacting Community through Service Learning, a freshman learning community, is a hands-on, experiential study of the helping professions through service with community agencies led by Angela Stowe, Ph.D., Service Learning Scholar and director, Disability Support Services, and Isakow, .
• Sociology Practicum 488, a supervised community-service project in which students gain knowledge of society, practice critical thinking, examine the values and skills needed for effective citizenship and address some social problem or problems is led by Assistant Professor Harry Hamilton.
• Exploring Birmingham: In Search of Community, a freshman learning community seminar that examines the effects of physical spaces and design on the way we interact with each other and build community, is led by Rosie O’Beirne, Center for Urban Affairs program coordinator, and Christopher Reaves, Ph.D., director of the Office for Undergraduate Research.
• Dollars and Sense: An Introduction to Business, Economics, and Personal Finance, a freshman learning community to introduce students to the fundamentals of business and economics as they relate to everyday life and career goals to foster lifetime personal financial planning and a practical understanding of supply, demand and price determination is led by Stephanie Rauterkus, Ph.D., associate professor of business.
• Intro to Digital Community Studies, exploring the concept of community through the lens of urban redevelopment using digital applications and direct field experience, is led by Rosie O’Beirne.

For more information about service learning see or contact Isakow at