Published on February 21st, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff0
Spring Hill High holds ‘first of its kind” in-school Special Olympics Young Athletes Expo
Students participate in activities as part of Spring Hill High School’s Young Athletes Expo
CHAPIN – More than 40 special needs students from two Lexington-Richland District Five elementary schools jumped, rolled and raced their way to finish lines as part of a Special Olympics Young Athletes Expo held at Spring Hill High School on Feb. 18.
Organizers say the event at the Lexington-Richland District Five magnet high school was the “first of its kind” to be held by a school. Around 30 “expos” are held statewide each year by groups, giving special needs students age seven and younger a preview of what it’s like to participate in Special Olympics games. Students in Spring Hill High’s Leadership II class led and organized the event, which included sports activities and opening and closing ceremonies.
“Having the expo at a school is a new model for us that we hope will continue,” said Barbara Oswald, Director of Youth Initiatives & Program Development for Special Olympics South Carolina. “First, it’s a good use of resources, including a lot of knowledge about the students that you’re serving. We also know that we can reach more athletes when it’s in their own communities, and the students who volunteer learn empathy and gain insight on the abilities and needs of special needs students. So, this event at Spring Hill High was the first of its kind, but something we hope will spread to other schools statewide.”
Students in the school’s Leadership II class volunteered to plan and host the event as part of a project for Students In Action, a national program by the Jefferson Awards encouraging students to positively impact their schools, community and world. Organizers say the students presented their concept to a panel, including Special Olympics South Carolina staff who provided feedback and support in planning the event. Students from several school groups and classes volunteered to assist during the expo, and special needs students from Spring Hill High School also helped with games and registration.
“We wanted the event to include Olympic-style games and fun activities,” said Maggie Todd, a Leadership II student who helped organize the event. “We work with our special needs students here on a daily basis, and we love how kind and compassionate they are towards us. So we wanted to be able to give back, not only to them but also to younger special needs students as well.”
Sherry Stone, who teaches Leadership II at the school, said: “These students define what it means to be leaders. So, it’s no surprise that the event turned into something that was just above and beyond what was expected…We’re so proud of how the event came together.”
For teachers and parents attending Spring Hill High’s Young Athletes Expo, the benefits of the event will be both immediate and long-term.
“You don’t understand how special special needs students are until you are around them,” said Emily Berry, Chapin Elementary special needs teacher and District Five 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year. “They don’t know what it means to not be able to do something. They try everything. They are inspiring every day, and I think it’s important for these students to see that. It’s important for everyone to see that, and that’s why the event here was so great.”
Jennifer Bowers, who attended the expo with her son, said: “It was just a great event and a wonderful opportunity for these kids, both for the special needs kids and the high school students who helped.”