It was a Big Moment for approximately 140 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) special education students, many of whom were taking their first ever field trip from school.
They were getting a chance to participate in organized sports activities — for the first time.
The youth, ranging from ages 2 to 7, could been seen scampering joyfully on the softball field at Kennedy High School, participating in events that included running, jumping, and carrying a toy frog or hippo on a paddle — no easy feat on this windy Friday, Feb. 5.
The event was the Young Athletes Festival, sponsored by both the LAUSD and Special Olympics Southern California (SOSC), which brought in children from nine pre- and elementary schools, including Andres & Maria Cardenas Elementary in Van Nuys, and Shirley Avenue Elementary in Reseda.
It is the fourth year the district and SOSC are putting on the sporting festival, said Lindsay Cecil, a specialist with the district’s Adaptive Physical Education (APE) department. There were two festivals this 2015-16 academic year, one held at San Pedro High School in December and the other at Kennedy High School last Friday.
“This year [the program] has expanded to 320 classrooms and roughly 2,500 students,” Cecil said. “Special Olympics provides the equipment and curriculum . Our APE teachers collaborate with classroom teachers to carry out the program.”
SOSC’s Young Athlete’s Program is specifically designed for youth, ages 2 to 7, to help develop develop motor, social and cognitive skills in those with physical and/or intellectual disabilities with the help of active games, songs, obstacle courses and other activities. According to its website, the organization has 76,000 kids currently participating in one of its programs.
Kennedy High provided 75 volunteers —mostly students — to help guide the youngsters around the two sets of activity stations as both parents and teachers watched and cheered. Each station was available for seven minutes each. Then the young and new athletes were cued by music to go to another setup.
Although promoted as a “Special Olympics” event, there was no scorekeeping, or gold, silver and bronze medals waiting.
“We want to give them a sense of accomplishment in their play,” said Cheryl Wetenkamp, an APE teacher and an event coordinator. “This is not about competition. This is to inspire. It’s all about participation. Everybody’s a winner today.”
The festival itself wrapped in a very tidy hour. Cecil pointed out that at the student’s total school day lasts four hours and 20 minutes and all activities, be it classroom or sports, must be carefully timed.
What quantifies a successful event, Cecil was asked.
“The students having fun and having a sense of accomplishment,” Cecil said. “A lot of times it is to see teachers and parents see the students perform in a positive way. It’s supposed to be a fun day, letting them be exposed to physical activity.”