For once, I’m speechless. So here is a news article for y’all. Maybe tomorrow I will have something empowering, enlightening or en-something .
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Unified Olympics join students of all stripes together
Team effort – Inclusive PE program matches Forest Grove students of varied abilities in games that support all players
Jonathan House / Pamplin Media Group
Rummaging into lunch Saturday at Beaverton’s Five Oaks Middle School after a Special Olympics basketball game of three-on-three, Preston Harris, 12, eyed his friend Chris Sullivan’s bag of potato chips with a playful smile.
“No, those are mine,” said Sullivan, giggling from across the table. The boys play basketball and go to Forest Grove’s Tom McCall Upper Elementary School together, despite Chris being born with Down syndrome.
Both joined the Unified Special Olympics basketball team last January when the season began. The squad comprises 10 volunteer peer partners and 12 Special Olympics athletes, all roughly the same age and from the same schools.
Students from Tom McCall and Joseph Gale Elementary, also in Forest Grove, invited students from Beaverton and Hillsboro to attend Saturday’s jamboree. All together, nearly 100 people attended, including dozens of volunteers and Special Olympians.
When the team rosters opened up, dozens of kids from Forest Grove schools volunteered. So many, in fact, that some were turned down, according to volunteer coach Susan Dieter, an adapted PE specialist. Dieter works with children at multiple schools and may visit six different schools each day in the district. She also volunteers with Joseph Gale special education teacher Jill Hertel to coach the two Forest Grove teams.
Displaying a toothy smile, Sullivan unsealed his bag of chips and munched quietly as sweat accumulated on his brow.
Minutes before, he and Harris had shared the ball – and hugs – after each other’s attempts at the hoop.
Harris’s mother, Claudette Harris, smiled as the boys hugged after Preston scored with a lay-up.
“He’s done really well,” she said. “He doesn’t hog the ball and really enjoys playing.”
Harris’s other son, Austin, is a 16-year-old junior at Forest Grove High School, a swimmer and a lover of clay art. He also is affected by Fragile X Syndrome, an inherited mental impairment that affects cognitive and physical abilities.
Often associated with autism and severe cognitive disabilities, Fragile X, also known as Martin-Bell Syndrome, is the most commonly known single gene cause of autism, according to the National Fragile X Foundation. Austin attended the jamboree as a volunteer, cheering for his brother from the sidelines.
“He’s never been limited from a medical standpoint,” Harris said. Her other three children were not born with the condition.
Sponsored by the Beaverton Schools Special Olympics Basketball Program, the weekend jamboree matched traditional Special Olympics athletes with peer partners for morning and afternoon games.
In the end, everyone received an award.
“Whether playing with a parent or sibling, classmate or friend, many of our athletes can learn to be active and independent,” Hertel noted. “The games were to encourage skills and knowledge that can be transferred to school recess, the home driveway or neighborhood.”
As the scrimmages ended and players shuffled out into the cafeteria, Dieter noted that many of the children were tired.
“We should have made it a half day,” she said with a smile.
Not unwearied herself, Dieter pointed out her child, Anna, a busy toddler who, at 15 months, can control a full-size basketball and run with wobbly ease.
For at least 10 years, Forest Grove School District leaders have maintained the idea that special education is an ongoing service, rather than a designated room for children with special needs, Hertel noted. Together, children with and without disabilities grow and thrive in the classroom.
In high school, classes like science and history may progress too quickly for some disabled teens, so the school district provides adult aides and alternative classes to redirect learning – producing tangible results that students can use once they graduate.
“You learn through the course of your education that everyone brings their own strengths to the class and that everyone has something going on,” Harris said.
Forest Grove High School also offers life-skills classes to teach disabled teens how to go shopping, ride public transportation and manage money.
“It has been a blessing for Austin – and it’s a really great place to have ended up,” his mother said.
Free of the stigmas, projections and prejudices that can arise when youngsters don’t understand others’ disabilities, the jamboree was a big success with parents, siblings and Special Olympians.
“Seeing parents watch their kids be a part of something and watching the kids see their friends succeed is really awesome,” Hertel said.
Dieter often reminds the college students who visit her classes for real-life practice to resist asking about conditions her students may have.
“If you get too hung up on what they have,” she pointed out, “you forget that they are just kids.”