When we enjoyed some time at Los Cerros Middle School for basketball, we also had a chance to get the principal’s perspective on Special Olympics in the schools. Los Cerros students volunteer with our general sports program at a bowling competition, take the Polar Plunge and host competitions so chatting with Principal Phyllis Roach was the perfect way to get an administrative take on our Schools Partnership Program. We thoroughly enjoyed talking with Principal Roach, and judging by the warm way all of the students there greeted her, we’re not the only ones!
Why do you think it’s important for students to be involved with the Schools Partnership Program?
What I’ve noticed since we started working with Special Olympics seven years ago, is that there’s been this opening and awareness of kids with different abilities. At the time we started, we only had one special education class on campus and now we have three classes. The combination of these events and having classes with kids of different abilities has really opened a homogeneous community’s eyes up about what differences can look like and what they mean.
I think when I’m frustrated with the lack of diversity here, I can look at Special Olympics as providing the best kind of diversity to open the hearts and minds of kids. Our students grow so much from it.
How do students at Los Cerros get involved with Special Olympics?
They have to apply for it and earn the right because it gives it the cache that it deserves. It’s a privilege to work with Special Olympics athletes and not everyone gets to do it. If you want to do it, you earn the right. It’s a good lesson for kids that these athletes deserve the best this school has to offer. What I love is the sixth graders who get involved with it because that means next year and in eighth grade, they’ll be the ones to lead.
The thing about middle school is that the kids are so lost as to who they are. Anytime that they get a chance to have responsibility, shine and be a leader, even just one on one, they really take to it. It’s really nice to say. I hate to say it, but particularly with boys, they really grow. Middle school boys don’t get a lot of chances to be soft. It’s good for all of them.
What kind of difference have you seen in the students receiving special education at Los Cerros?
They’re very warmly greeted on campus. A lot of the kids know their names and say hi to them. The general education students will come up to them on the black top. We have [gen ed] teaching assistants in each of our special education classes. I personally place those [non-disabled] eighth grade students. I’m very picky about who I let work with our special education students. It’s gotten to where kids approach me in the seventh grade and say they’d really like to do it next year.
What would you tell other administrators about being involved with Special Olympics in their schools?
There’s nothing more fulfilling. As a principal, my day-to-day work can sometimes be tedious and administrative by definition. To step out of that box and participate with kids who get as much from as you give is a real privilege. It works for all members of the school community – teachers, staff, students. Parents love this because they see their kids come home with pride as to what they did today.