This year for the first time I participated in the second annual “Little Feet Meet” Special Olympics event. The event held at Albemarle High School brought together children with and without disabilities to participate in a day of Olympic events, team building and overall fun. I was lucky enough to attend this year with a group of students that I work with weekly on a variety of things such as language and social skills. Each of my students was partnered up with a fifth grade buddy that would help guide and support them throughout the event.
Before we even left the school building, I was touched to see how attentive and kind the fifth graders were to my students. The fifth graders of our school and a third grade class even surprised us before we left with posters and cheered us on in the school auditorium. Once we got to Albemarle High School, I continued to be blown away with how inclusive and welcoming the environment of the entire event was. What was also amazing was that our entire fifth grade came out to this event with banners and noisemakers in the bleachers to support our athletes. I was so proud of our fifth graders and grateful to fifth grade teachers for promoting such a sense of community and support by coming out to watch the events this day.
Things only got better once the races began. Each of my students and their buddies were lined up at the start line ready to go. Once they began to run, it was amazing to see that all of my students and their buddies stayed together as they raced. I have one little guy who is non-verbal and not the most athletic. However, when he was with his buddy, he had the BEST running form of anyone and completed that race with no difficulty. I was happy to see children just being children and having fun with no expectations or limitations being placed on them. That theme continued throughout the event as my students and their buddies worked together to play with the giant parachutes, compete in throwing and jumping events, and soccer. There was not a moment that passed in which my students were not with their buddies having a great time.
On our way back to school one of the fifth grade buddies commented, “So that’s it? Will we get to practice or come back?” That comment let me know that Little Feet Meet was successful in its goal, which is to bring together children regardless of their abilities to promote inclusion. I knew that my students had a great time but it made me tear up to hear the fifth grade buddies talk about all of the fun that they had and the new friendships they made. I wish that more opportunities like Little Feet Meet existed throughout the school year because it’s events like that that truly make a difference and teach children that while indeed we are all “different” that’s OKAY. I think Little Feet Meet taught students that it’s okay to accept differences and not to be afraid of the child who flaps his arms as he walks. It’s okay to speak to the child who is non-verbal but lights up when given a smile. Weeks after the event, I can hear those fifth grade buddies in the hallway saying hi, or giving high fives to my students. It’s the simple things like that, which remind me why I love my job and the special little friends that I get to work with everyday.
Sadai is a Speech-Language Pathologist who has been with Albemarle County Public Schools for almost 4 years.