CHAMPIONING ATHLETES

This spring, local special education students in preschool through fifth grade will have the opportunity to become “Young Champions.”

Seymour Community School Corp. is one of eight school districts in the state chosen to pilot the Special Olympics Young Champions athletic program for children with special needs.

There will be more than 50 kids involved from Seymour-Jackson Elementary’s Developmental Preschool, Emerson Elementary’s SOAR program for students with autism and Seymour-Redding Elementary’s Life Skills program.

For eight weeks, the students will spend time during their school day training with physical education teachers and special education staff to compete in an end-of-year Young Champions athletics field day event to highlight their accomplishments and abilities.

Training sessions will be a part of the students’ adaptive physical education class and will focus on helping students with physical and learning challenges improve and implement physical, cognitive and social skills, said Mika Ahlbrand, director of special education.

“I think one of the highlights this year to our special education programming has been the introduction of adaptive special classes,” Ahlbrand said. “Our art, music and PE teachers have been able to create adaptive time for students to go in smaller groups to those special areas. The Young Champions program fits right along with our adaptive PE curriculum.”

A Unified Game Day will take place likely in April and will include students without disabilities helping to run the event and encouraging participants by cheering for them.

The event will be similar to a unified track meet conducted this past spring at Seymour High School called Inclusion Revolution, where special education students participated in track and field events during a regular high school track meet. That event was such a success, it is being planned again for this spring.

School board member Kenny Browning said he was glad to see Seymour schools chosen for the pilot program and the continued efforts by the special education department to create more opportunities for students with special needs.

“We have spent quite a bit of money for the athletic department, and I’m hopeful that we can utilize our facilities for all of our student-athletes,” he said.

For being selected for the Young Champions program, the district will receive $1,000 from Special Olympics to purchase T-shirts and awards and other items to promote the program and the end-of-year event.

Amanda Jones works with special needs students at Seymour High School and plans on looking into how to get involved as a Special Olympics coach or team leader.

“It’s truly a blessing to have something these kids can be a part of,” she said. “These kids often get strange looks, heartbreaking stares, and for them to be able to be a part of something that is so accepting is just amazing.”

Debbie Davis of Seymour has been a caregiver for special needs children in the community and said she applauds the school corporation’s efforts to include them in all activities.

“This is long overdue,” she said. “To see the joys of their respective goals is heartwarming. I think it’s an excellent idea, and as a community, we should encourage Seymour to make this happen. We may have some pretty good athletes out there.”

Nora Bridge of Seymour is working to attain her teaching degree with hopes of getting certified in special education. She, too, supports the program.

“I think this change will be monumental for current and future special needs students,” she said. “It’s a positive step in the right direction.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.