Being a part of Project UNIFY, I get to read a lot of stories about Special Olympics impacting students and school communities across the U.S. I constantly hear great stories of success where students with intellectual disabilities are respected and treated as equals in their school. Sadly, I also read things that illustrate how much work we still have to do. But on a Friday afternoon, I want to share one story of transformation that gives me hope that change can, and will, happen.
Be inspired by Elementary student Kayla Davis and her journey to understanding:
“When I was first asked if I wanted to help the Special Education kids with Physical Education last year, my answer was a resounding no my reasons being that I was fearful and had no experience with Special Ed kids. They were scary, and gross. Why would I want to help them? But the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself to try it, just once. My teacher and my parents backed me up completely, but still I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it because I felt uncomfortable and scared. I knew nothing about Special Ed in general and had planned on never interacting with the kids. I had what you could call the “public opinion.” But as I soon found out, being a PE helper was very different than I thought.
The moment I walked into the gym, I knew it was nothing like I had expected. I had thought they would have trouble walking, let alone doing the things we, the 5th and 6th graders were doing. They played volleyball, soccer, basketball, and everything else we learned. I was entirely surprised. I soon learned their names; Jenna, Maron, Jodie, Jacob, Andy, and Riley. This year we have 3 new kids too. I was paired up with Jenna, a spirited kindergartener. It was fun going there every Tuesday and Thursday. I grew to look forward to it, treasuring the half-hour I had to spend with these students. My favorite part was watching the improvements while they were learning. I got my buddy from just looking at the basketball, to pushing it upward!
My view of the Special Ed kids changed greatly. They weren’t a different race; they were normal people with a special perk. One of the things that changed my perception was interacting with them. They laughed, cried, and loved, just like us. As I continue working with them this year, (this year my partner is Maron), I continue to enjoy it, more than ever because I have learned more about how to understand them. In addition to PE helpers, our school has recently formed a Partners Club, working with Special Olympics and Project Unify. I am proud to say that my whole class is involved in this amazing opportunity. I hope that if you ever have an amazing opportunity that you try it, just once.”
– Kayla Davis, Boise, Idaho