The following post was written by Nasirah and Malachi, two Special Olympics youth leaders from Washington DC. The pair make it their mission to strengthen inclusion in their community. Check out how they #innovateforinclusion!
Our Unified field day started with a poster campaign where students and staff made posters about inclusion, not using the r-word, and bullying and put them up all around school. Then, the students went to their first period where all the students in the school did a lesson on empathy and active listening. After that, we had an assembly for the whole school around inclusion, person first language and why we were having the field day. The assembly went really well. Trevon has autism and was afraid at first to do the assembly, but he did such a great job. Nasirah was also a host for the assembly. Because Malachi learned how to run the AV equipment at church, he did the same for the assembly. Malachi had to do the lights, curtains, music, and video equipment because no one in our school knew how, not even the adults.
In the assembly we had a presentation that we made with music, videos, and photos to guide us. We started with the purpose of the day which was to end the r-word, teach people to use person first language, help us bond as a school, and to have fun. We then watched the Special Olympics video highlighting Washington High School and set the intention that our purpose was to be like that school and even better. Next in the presentation we talked about how it hurts people when someone uses the r-word. We thought the kids would be rude and giggle, but everyone was polite and focused during this part.
Next we connected pride week to Jamaal Charles coming out as having an intellectual disability and how people should never be ashamed or feel like part of them should be hidden. We showed his video for Special Olympics. Nasirah did an interpretive dance. After that, we went over all of the events for the day. Field day would take place on our back field and the pool. We had the following events and stations: bean bag toss, bubble ball soccer, potato sack race, sponge relay, three legged race, ball transfer game, rubber duck relay, tug-o-war, matball, flag football, Frisbee, a board game room, food/grill station, and a nurses station. All of the outside events had a DJ playing. We had police officers cook all of our hot dogs and hamburgers. The teachers prepared the snacks; snocones, nachos, chips, drinks, popcorn, etc.
After the assembly we dismissed the whole school out to the football field to play games. The bumper balls and pool party were a huge hit. We played games, laughed, socialized, and even danced the whole afternoon. The weather was perfect! And we were able to stay on schedule which was amazing.
Along the way we had some trouble. First we couldn’t figure out how to accept the grant because of the way our school system and budget is set up. We didn’t end up getting the t-shirts we designed about ending the r-word and the unified field day because it was too much money. Also, we wanted to have bumper balls for one of our stations and thought about renting them. It was $300 to rent 8 for 2 hours or $1000 to buy 10. We decided to do a donor’s choose for it and got them the day before the field day. Finally, we had planned a water balloon fight and a "Before I Let Go" flash party dance but that fell through. Also, we had to use the teacher’s to set up the stations because a few student leaders got flakey and we wanted the students to stay in class to get the lesson on empathy. We found out that only about half of the classes did the lesson and that attendance was not as high as usual that day because it was towards the end of the school year.
We were worried about the weather but it was perfect and the students with intellectual disabilities from another high school named Columbia Heights Educational Campus came to our field day too.
We think our field day was a huge success. Our school has a lot of fights and there is a lot of violence in our neighborhood. Because of all of this, kids in our school are stressed. We don’t have a lot of fun or free time in school. We think that where would be fewer fights and better ways to resolve conflict if we had a chance to let the stress go and laugh. Also we wanted to help our friends be more sensitive about using the r-word. I think that is the one thing that we taught the kids at our school. We asked a few students about the field day and the teachers too. Some of the teachers said they learned something new too. The most surprising thing was that by 3:30PM everything was cleaned up. The students even stuck around to clean the games, pack up supplies, trash on the field and clean the kitchen. It was probably the DJ’s music that made it fun to clean.
Overall this was an incredible experience. It was frustrating at times trying to work out details and finding ways to get everything done in time. But it was so rewarding and everything came together. We know that our school liked it because they keep asking us when we were going to do it again.
Thank you Special Olympics for believing in us and giving us the resources to make this happen.
The 2018–2019 Special Olympics Youth Innovation Grant initiative is supported through partnerships with Hasbro, Inc., The Samuel Family Foundation, the Office of Special Education Programs at the United States Department of Education, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Kantar Group, the Microsoft Corporation, Lane Global Youth Leadership, and the Lions Clubs International Foundation. Learn more about these inspiring projects at SpecialOlympicsGlobalYouthProjects.org.