Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord recently took its turn as a host school, welcoming 300 special education student-athletes for the West Contra Costa County soccer competition. It seems like we’re always talking about the weather at our events, but the sun was especially bright and warm for a November morning, and it was a great day for the beautiful game.
Rock Star Status
While all of the schools that host Schools Partnership Program events are awesome, some YVHS general education students really took it to the next level with something I’d never seen before – a cheer tunnel.
Chances are you’ve either run through a cheer tunnel or been part of one. Non-disabled students stood in two lines at the entrance to the YVHS football stadium to greet the student-athletes, teachers and parents. Every time anyone would come through, the general education would cheer and offer high fives. The result was absolutely electric!
Student-athletes who appeared apprehensive as they approached the stadium absolutely melted into giddy rock stars after walking through the cheer tunnel. A couple student-athletes even went back for a second round through, walking out like they were Colin Kaepernick ready to play in the Super Bowl.
I asked the volunteers-turned-cheerleaders what their favorite part of the cheer tunnel was, and one young high school student said, “Seeing their happiness and spirit!” At that point, I’m not sure whose smiles were bigger and brighter – the general education students comprising the cheer tunnel or the special education student-athletes walking through it. That’s what we call a double win.
Breaking Down Barriers
One of the key parts of the Schools Partnership Program is that it allows students – of all ages and all abilities – to connect on an even playing field regardless if they’re autistic, are AP scholars, can’t walk or are the next Heisman Trophy winner. With Special Olympics in the schools, sports are the common denominator with the general education and special education students.
It’s visible to the outside eye – it’s a bunch of students playing soccer and smiling together. Even more astutely articulated, it’s visible to the special education teacher.
“As the special education students become older, the discrepancies between them and the general education students become more apparent,” Charlotte Wood Middle School’s Ms. Teach said. “The Schools Partnership Program helps to close that gap. They get a lot of support at competitions and they thrive on the recognition.”
What happens on the pitch transcends the world of sports, however, with the friendships and social skills learned carrying over to the classroom and life. The self confidence that the special education student-athletes gain and the respect that the general education students develop after volunteering make for more accepting campuses, better people and a happier world.
Best. Field. Trip. Ever.
As I was leaving the stadium, one of the young student-athletes proclaimed to his teacher that the soccer tournament was, “The best field trip ever!” Well said!
Thanks for hosting, YVHS!