Today I'll meet my students at the school at 8:15 am to set up the Bocce Ball courts. By 10 am, the courts will be full of Special Olympians rolling Bocce Balls and yelling in triumph at their accomplishments. The orange-clad referees will work to serve, encourage, measure, and officiate the games. It is a Saturday and 60 something of the kids in my school will roll out of bed, don their shirts and smiles and come to the school even though they don't have to.
Not one of these kids is being MADE to be here. While the National Honor Society is sponsoring it, any student grades 8-12 can come and volunteer and over half the school comes out every year to do just that.
Some Things Aren't Just Special, They're IMPORTANT
We've been going now for 11 years. It started off as an effort to host the state Bocce Ball Special Olympics games and indeed we did that for 4 years straight – running 12 hours and doing our best. But when the state games moved to a more central location – in Macon – we kept a tournament going because of how important it is for this event to happen.
You see, when students interact with each other in this way – it is a win win for all. It is a win win for the Special Olympians who get encouragement and fair officiating as well as the laughter and fun that comes from being in the presence of teenagers. One thing is for sure, we'll all laugh (and cry tears of joy) all day today.
But my students get a great gift. They get to serve, encourage, and love those with special needs. It is to the point that many of them have been doing this long enough that they remember names and see each other far more than just at this once a year event. They become friends.
The Greatest Joys and the Most Wealth
You can teach a child all the knowledge in a thousand books, but if they don't know how to love and serve others – they'll miss out on the greatest joys this life has to offer.
Today everyone involved will become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. NO, no one will put anything in our wallets — but our hearts will be showered with richness in every way. Joy. Love. Happiness – pure unadulterated happiness.
The Tide of Compassion
Some of these kids will start off today a tad fearful. You can always see them at the beginning, hanging back just a bit and watching. But when they see their friends cheerleading, hugging, interacting and laughing with the participants – that love just spreads like a wave breaking down the beach. The tide of love and compassion comes crashing in and after just an hour or so, those kids who started the day are all in. By the end of the day you'll see them, eyes shining working until the last court is put up hanging around sort of wishing it was still happening. They don't want to leave.
The Purpose in Personhood
Then they'll know one of the great secrets of life. When you spend yourself in a worthy cause – your heart becomes full of great riches that you cannot comprehend. As a Christian, there are many verses I can share with these kids about why we do this — but the biggest thing is that each and every one of us realizes we're not the center of the universe. We see our fellow human beings full of purpose and shun the world's view that your worth is determined by how smart you are or how fast you can run or how much money you have.
They can see clearly that each person is a person of worth, merit, and importance. They'll see a spirit of true sportsmanship and why we play sports at all and that you don't have to win the Super Bowl to be a winner in life.
How Amazing Adults Are Made
OK, I've got to go get dressed and meet these winners. For the kids who come to this earn my respect and admiration. Other kids at our school are great kids — but these are the ones who really get an education.
These are the kids who will change the world because even as teenagers – during a time of natural inborn selfishness – they set their alarm on a Saturday to get up and do something worthwhile. And that, my friend, is how amazing adults are made.
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Vicki, what a great post. I work in a school that is all special needs students and they, just like any other kid, want to be respected and have friends. We had a program where a group from a local middle school came to hang out with our kids for the day, but budget cuts curtailed that. The middle school kids really enjoyed shadowing and interacting with our kids. They wrote in their reflection journals about what a great experience it was for them, and it was great for our students to get to interact with other kids, as many of them are pretty isolated in our mountaintop residential school.
Yes, Cindy! I am convinced that interacting like this when they are kids is vital to our future of respect and understanding. I am so sad that they cut it for budgetary reasons. Of course we had to do this on a Saturday so during the week would be hard for us too. I am amazed at how many kids make this a lifelong habit, though. They go to college and serve too but many come tell me their friends won’t go with them because they don’t “get it.” Lots of great people are afraid of those with special needs and shouldn’t be. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Maybe principals and school board members and teachers reading this will move to make this happen in their district.— Vicki Davis
Host: Every Classroom Matters
Author: Reinventing Writing
Co-Author: Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds
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