Building friendships through track and field

Last year, through the collaborative efforts of many individuals and groups, Elkhart Community Schools introduced the Unified Track Meet to high school students at Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial. This year, the program has grown to include kindergarten through grade 8 students with the Special Olympics: Unified Champion Schools. Grades 3-8 will participate in the track and field events, while K-2 will participate in field stations. Seven elementary schools and two middle schools will be participating this year.

Special Olympics: Unified Champion Schools is a program for creating school climates of inclusion, acceptance, respect, and human dignity for all students with and without disabilities. Our elementary students with disabilities are paired up with a “buddy” to help cheer them on and to assist in practices. This partnership will later become part of the friendly competition, as they will both be competing. It is a great opportunity to help build friendships and leadership, as well as set a tone of acceptance and respect. Jenny Sager, supervisor of mild interventions, explains “today’s students want to be involved, they want to participate and build positive relationships.”

Leading up to the event, students will participate in twelve practices. While attending practices, all students work on the basics – understanding where to start, how to stay in their lane, and how to improve their times. They will have the option of picking three events from the following: 25 meter run, 50 meter run, 50 meter wheelchair race, 4×25 relay, softball throw, and standing long jump. The 7th and 8th graders will also have the option of a 100 or 200 meter run.

“The most exciting thing I have seen is how excited my students are to have their buddies joining them in their activities,” says Pam Ritzler, intensive interventions teacher at Cleveland Elementary. “My students feel a sense of belonging and leadership when their buddies are joining them.”

Each participating school will be represented on May 8th, from 9:30am to 1:30pm, at Elkhart Memorial High School’s track, at the Unified Champion event. The event will be open to the community to share in the excitement and celebrate our students. Attendees can expect to see Elkhart Memorial band members and Air Force Junior ROTC join together to kick off in this great event.

Elkhart Memorial High School students in grades 9-12 will also be participating in a series of Unified Track Meets this year including, sectional, regional, and state competitions.

If you are interested in being a volunteer for any of these events, please contact Jenny Sager at jsager@elkhart.k12.in.us.

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