The kids are so excited, they can’t keep still.
They fidget. They crowd around. Many can’t stop staring at and touching their shiny new gold medals.
“Me likey,” kindergartner Jared Lentz said. “I’m gonna show momma.”
It’s Wednesday, April 7, at Mirror Lake Elementary — the day the Special Olympics came to the school.
For Terri Lippman’s class of kindergartners through third-graders, it’s a very special day. Many of her students could have the opportunity one day to compete in the Special Olympics. All of her students are in the special education program.
Likewise, the day brings about another message: Acceptance.
After receiving an $80,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Special Olympics Washington chose two school districts in the state to bring the Young Athletes program: The West Valley School District (near Spokane) and Federal Way.
The grant means they could bring the starting point of the Young Athletes program to the schools: Project Unify, a sports play program for children ages 2-7 with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics is for ages 8 and up.
The program focuses on development skills and cognitive skills using activities such as catching, throwing, walking, running, kicking, jumping and balancing. Afterward, all the students get a gold medal, T-shirt and a snack.
But there is an underlying lesson.
“It promotes inclusion between special needs and typically developing,” Lippman said.
“They all compete on the same teams,” said Doria Hastings with Special Olympics. “The typically developing kids get a chance to interact and see these kids are just like them. They’re normal kids. They just want to fit in.”
And all the students have fun.
“I just throwed it to the target,” said Lianne Sui, a second-grader. “I did a good job.”
These Mirror Lake students could very well have a future in Special Olympics, now that they have been exposed to it at an early age.
“I’d love to get them involved in Special Olympics,” Lippman said. “I hope they take advantage of that opportunity.”