The following guest blog comes from Megan Clodi, a special education teacher at Mt. Vernon Township High School in Illinois. Mrs. Clodi is also the Director of Special Olympics programming at her school.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and get ready to imagine a scenario. The scene begins with a gymnasium built in the 1930’s filled to the brim with rich high school basketball tradition overflowing with stories of championships won, hall of famers inducted, and decades of sweat and tears from losses and wins. Now listen to the thud on the caramel wooden floor of the cheerleaders landing their tumbling stunts. The drum line thunders their tune and the band strikes up a fight song. Every seat in Changnon Gymnasium is filled with students and teachers. When will the game begin? No Varsity Basketball game will be played right now at 9am on this brisk Friday morning. Instead, this is the scene at the Mt. Vernon Township High School school-wide assembly.
This assembly is unique because it is a RALLY . . . a rally to Spread the Word to End the Word! Mt. Vernon Township High School is a culturally diverse school located in the heart of Southern Illinois and comprised of roughly 1,300 students from 13 feeder schools. The campus sprawls 11 buildings on two full city blocks. Three times a year students come together for assemblies to celebrate student involvement and success in sports and in other extra-curricular activities. This particular assembly is similar but has a unique feature, one of which . . . SILENCE. Never before has the entire student body quieted themselves during an assembly.
A parent stands at the podium and explains how ALL of her children are competitive and participate in a wide array of activities . . . including her daughter, who has an intellectual disability. She shares how her other children feel and react when their friends use the R-word (retarded) in haphazard and derogatory ways. Subsequently, the School Resource Officer describes the Polar Plunge fundraiser to benefit Special Olympics and why he supports the athletes. Two students gather their guitars and play their original acoustic song that won first place in the Mt. Vernon’s Got Talent competition to benefit Special Olympics. Next, the student Editor of the Vernois Yearbook takes the microphone to issue a call to action for his classmates to stop using the r-word. A tall-framed woman with a familiar face steps to the microphone. This face is aired into homes during the sports segment on the local news. During her speech, she details that over her years of experience competing in sports and reporting sporting events, the athletes that have emblazoned a lasting impression on her heart is the MVTHS Special Olympics athletes. Lastly, a Special Olympics athlete bravely stands before his classmates and honestly opens up as he tells everyone that over the years he has been called retarded and routinely been made fun of. His feelings and raw emotion is bared for all to hear the pain he endured. At the end, he implores his classmates and all adults present to use helpful words instead of hurtful words . . . achingly to STOP using the R-word. Never has silence been so loud.
The SILENCE hangs thickly in the air until the basketball theme-music, “Put it on the Line”, plays over the sound-system as the team gathers in the lobby. The excitement builds and every single person jumps to their feet to clap. The starting line-up is announced and the team takes the floor. Which team? The first-ever MVTHS Special Olympics Basketball Team takes the floor and basks in the delight of the standing ovation. The team sets up on the floor and the ball is tossed into the air for the starting tip-off!
Now open your eyes.
Time to decide . . . is this fact or fantasy? How about at your school?
If it can be a reality at Mt. Vernon Township High School, it can be reality at your school, too!