Unified Track Team and the Special Olympics
Elkhart Community Schools introduced the Unified Track Meet to high school students at Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial two years ago. This year, the Elkhart Memorial High School Unified Track team became the 2018 Sectional Champions and are heading to STATE after finishing as the regional runner-up!
For the second year, the program has included kindergarten through grade 8 students with the Special Olympics: Unified Champion Schools. The event started with a parade which was led by Elkhart Memorial’s Air Force Junior ROTC and Mayor Tim Neese. The day was filled with events for all participants in grades K-8, almost 200 students participated.
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. It is a great opportunity to help build friendships and leadership, as well as set a tone of acceptance and respect. “They definitely enjoy the camaraderie and the fun and just being outside and getting around cheering crowds and other people. The kids enjoy it, the teachers enjoy it and it’s nice for the parents to come out and see what their kids can do,” said Dr. Kathy Mentz, special education supervisor.
Leading up to the event, students participated in multiple practices to prepare for the big day. While at practices, all students work on the basics – understanding where to start, how to stay in their lane, and how to improve their times. They had 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 also had 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.”