At Caledonia Elementary School on Wednesday, 19 students in the school’s special education department became champions.
The students, who ranged in age from pre-K to fifth grade, got to participate in their own field day, called the Challenge of Champions, in a fun-filled morning of bean bag tosses, relay races and obstacle courses, all rounded out with a dance party.
While the activities were fun for the kids, SPED teacher Lindsay Kerstetter said, what they liked more was partnering up with one of CES’s fourth grade classes, along with cheerleaders from Caledonia’s other schools and athletes from Mississippi University for Women, all of whom worked with the children and helped them complete the activities.
“All of our students have been so excited about getting to be with other students around the building,” said Kerstetter, one of three SPED teachers whose students participated. “In our classrooms, we do everything by ourselves, for the most part. We go to specials together, we do our class time together, we eat lunch together. So for them to … feel connected to other students who are specifically focused on them, they feel like they are just really special today.”
The field day was organized by the Provisional Class of the Junior Auxiliary of Columbus, with the goal being to give a group of traditionally underserved students an opportunity to have fun, build confidence and interact with other students in the school.
“We wanted to do a field day experience with them because they don’t have any type of experiences like this at the school,” said JA member Alison Alexander. “We chose this school because they have a special education program, and one of our provisional (members) is the fourth grade teacher that brought her classroom in here.”
Each special education student had two “buddies” from the fourth grade class whose job was to encourage them and help them complete tasks. Fourth grade teacher Roxanne Moody, who is also a JA member, said she’d been delighted at the enthusiasm from her students.
“Today they were very excited, and actually I am impressed with how helpful they have been to these students, helping them achieve things, finish the race and things like that,” she said. “It’s just making sure they know we’re all equal as students, and I want them to learn that, to know that, there’s no difference between any of our students here.”
“Even my students who are not as outgoing, they have really jumped in and really … helped the entire time.”
JA member Lauri Sansing said she’d been impressed that the fourth graders hadn’t tried to take over the activities.
“I watch them and I think, the (fourth graders) might take over or try to do it themselves but they all stood back and let the other one do it,” Sansing said. “Instead of taking the baton and running for (their buddy), they’re giving them that opportunity.”
As JA members milled around the room, setting up the trophies and organizing lunch, which was provided by Zachary’s Restaurant in downtown Columbus, teams of students and teachers linked hands in their own circles. For about 10 minutes, they tried to see which team could move a hula hoop along their circle, all without letting go of each other’s hands.
“There’s been a lot of hand-holding,” Sansing said.
Nearby, fourth grade students Aaron Dorsey and Kalynn Gonzales handed their buddy, kindergarten student Micha Elgersman, a handful of beanbags and showed him how to toss them into buckets a few feet away. Elgersman carefully tossed first one bean bag, then two more, into the buckets. His buddies’ faces burst into grins.
“High five!” Dorsey said, holding up both hands. Elgersman grinned and gave Dorsey a double high-five.
It was that type of interaction which Sansing said made the day a success.
“It’s been a very emotional day for us,” Sansing said. “…These kids, just the excitement on their faces to accomplish a small task, it’s just been heartwarming to see their energy and the confidence level increasing each time they do one of the activities.”
The day ended with an awards ceremony. As each of the 19 SPED students had their names called, they received a trophy. Before they went back to their seat, their two buddies raced to their sides, and all three had their picture taken together.
Sansing said each student would also take home a scrapbook of pictures taken throughout the day.
“(The book is) memories for them to take today so they can look and say, ‘Look what we did,'” she said. “‘We accomplished this.'”
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