When we voted on our spring teachers of the season, we read that one of our nominees (and winner for the Mission Valley region) organized a disabilities week. Here’s what the nomination had to say about Kennedy High School’s SDC Teacher Valerie Hunter and the week:
“Leading up to our last event of the year, Valerie organized a group of teachers and students on her campus to initiate a disabilities awareness week and promote Special Olympics. With her efforts along with her colleagues, the general education students supported their Special Olympics track and field team. Not only did they show them their support on their campus, but they had 30 students attend our final event to cheer on their school’s team.”
The disabilities awareness week was a smashing success because of Ms. Hunter! We just had to know more about this great week, and Ms. Hunter was kind enough to answer our questions! Here is what she had to say about it and having Special Olympics in the classroom at Kennedy:
“Everything Special Olympics was trying to do got achieved through our school! It is remarkable and perfect!! Thank you so much for having this program and making it the best thing to happen to special education! Inclusion is so important, and I think this really helped our students feel included into our campus.”
Now let’s hear more about this fantastic week!
What did your school do for the disabilities week?
We set up an event every day of the week to help spread the word about Special Olympics and to help our students not use the r-word.
Monday and Tuesday, we had nice carnival-type games and we advertised for the relay race.
On Wednesday, we had a relay race that had different stations for students to switch off while performing a task – like changing their clothes into a costume or picking up cotton balls. One was to run an egg on a spoon and shake Ping-Pong balls out of a box attached to your waist! It was hilarious to see all the kids working and doing so well together. Each round had a general education student at each station to help the students go through the run. And the runners were mixed well. Sometimes it was two students with special needs and sometimes it was one of each and sometimes it was two general ed. Everyone cheered for everyone!! It was so great!! You could really feel the excitement and the love all around!!
On Thursday and Friday, we had beautiful performances in the amphitheater for our students. It was really great because the students sang songs from Disney and Michael Jackson. The place was actually full!! And the students did an awesome job! And a lot of the students ended up dancing around. It was so great!
What parts of the week did you find to be especially effective?
I liked that we had something to do each day in the quad. It was hard to get student involvement at first, but you can tell they really got into it. I think the relay and music performances were the most effective. Friday really wrapped it up, and I could really tell that both sets of students got into it. They genuinely cared and didn’t mind when my class started dancing and stuff. We hollered and just had a blast!!
How did the general education students show support for their peers receiving special education?
They were very encouraging and wooped and hollered. I didn’t hear bad laughing or negativity or making fun, so that was cool.
How was it having them cheering at the final event?
It was amazing and just feeling the love made tears come to my eyes.
What kind of feedback did you get from the general education students?
They want to help out more like become my TA and stuff. And when we go down the halls the students are like “hey!” and smile and some even say my students’ names!! They will give high fives and stuff like that – it’s cool to watch!
What did your students think about competing in Special Olympics?
Some of my students will not stop talking about Special Olympics – they are excited to know when the next competition is going to be! They want to practice or retell what happened at the last one. During a lesson, I asked the students what starts with the letter “B,” and one student responded with basketball and then continued to say, “Like from Special Olympics when I threw it to Leo!” I was very impressed and very happy!! He is my most verbal student but I like to think that some of my other students are thinking that but might not be able to say it.
What did the students receiving special education think about having their peers support them?
They thought it was so cool to have students in the stands!! Our school brought a bunch of students over to the game. When we came back, my students said things like, “Did you see everyone cheering for us?!” It was so great to hear them get excited like that! And, the day before the competition, some of the students came by my class to wish my students luck!!! It was so awesome!! They signed the banners and did high fives and fist bumps and it was just beautiful and made my students so happy!! It was remarkable!
Are there any handy tips you would share with other schools putting on similar events?
We had the ASB student leaders set up the events! Let the kids do it, and let them come up with the ideas and stuff. I think that helped them get more in to it. As a special ed teacher, I tried hard to get out emails and things and gather support from general ed teachers. I really loved working with our journalism teacher, our yearbook committee and the ASB students. I think the ASB students really are the main reason this all went so well. My main job was to make sure my students were there at events. I asked the ASB student leaders to come in my class and talk to the students and ask them what they wanted. My students wanted T-shirts! And ASB MADE SHIRTS FOR THEM!!! They all matched and it was great!
What would you tell others about your schools involvement with Special Olympics?
It is a must!! It’s not that it doesn’t mean anything without the involvement of the general education students, but having the whole school be involved makes it so special!! It creates this vibe and it’s a happy one and a good proud one! I think getting the general education students to think outside themselves and think about helping others can be really inspiring to them. Many of them tell me later that they are so impressed with my students and some of them truthfully tell me that they didn’t know my students can do so much! Some of them feel guilty after relaying this truth to me, but I reassure them that my students continue to surprise me everyday. I also tell them that my students are just like you, the general education students. I am constantly surprised and thankful for their support!!
Everything Special Olympics was trying to do got achieved through our school! It is remarkable and perfect!! Thank you so much for having this program and making it the best thing to happen to special education! Inclusion is so important and I think this really helped our students feel included into our campus.