In any school system, a small population of special needs students is always visible. The larger population is familiar with them but can be unsure of how to make an approach. At Eastchester Middle School, their pre-special Olympics basketball program provides the perfect opportunity for general education students to take their interest a step further and make a mix of it.
“I think they are curious so this encourages them,” says Special Ed Eastchester Middle School Teacher Michele Walpole of the students who join in and act as assistant coaches to their peers in this Friday afternoon recreational school program.
So aboutten special needs students take the gym once a week and get a little schooling on how to dribble, box out and run the floor with ten assistant coaches and Special Olympics Representative and Coach Gary Peters. In turn, she keeps an eye on things, and in the end, all the students mix it up for a ten minute scrimmage.
Believe it or not, she says, “There’s quite a few baskets.” So as the rock goes down, the cheering goes up all around with the obligatory hi fives covering most of the paint and the low post.
At the same time, it’s not an exercise in turning the ball over just to make a new comer feel good about competing for the first time. “They’re not letting them simply steal the ball so it gives the special needs kids a feeling of confidence, she says.
Still, no one in attendance is getting carried away with the score or even keeping count. “It’s more like, ‘I got a basket,’” she says.
Of course, if nothing butnet doesn’t happen - whether you’re the playmaker at the point or the shooter at the two - coaches make sure everyone is singled out for learning the fundamentals or simply leaving it on the floor. “It’s not always about getting a basket,” she says.
Also outside the boxscore is an intangible that makes each future Olympian get a special feeling that doesn’t always come with the territory in their lives. “It’s a ton of attention for them,” she says.
Similarly, the assistant coaches get an attention they weren’t getting before they joined the program. They get very excited when the kids respond to them – especially when it comes in a nonverbal reaction such as a smile or a joyful look, she says.
And now there is an off the court reaction that persists into the school day and creates common cause. They say hello to each other and socialize in the cafeteria and the hallways, she says.
As for the actual Special Olympics, they can think about that in the Eastchester High School version of this program. “Socialization is the main issue here,” she says. In that, they’ve already got the gold.