If you’ve frequented the Gull Lake High School cafeteria between January 16 and 19, chances are you’ve seen a troupe of students collecting change for Special Olympics, a “global social movement,” and the largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Students involved in the program have been asking for donations at lunches.
Gull Lake’s Special Olympics Bowling program began during the 2016-17 school year and now continues into 2018. Both high school and middle school students bowl from 5:30-6:30 every other Thursday. According to Special Education teacher Tasha Harrison, this schedule encourages participation because it is convenient for students and parents.
“We’ve had students that haven’t really done any Special Olympics before participate. It’s only once every other week for an hour, so it’s not a big time commitment, and parents don’t have to drive quite as far to be part of the program,” Harrison said.
Gull Lake is a unified champion school, which means the Special Olympic Bowling team is comprised of both students with disabilities and those without.
“There’s a mentor, basically, for each special olympian, so both the general ed student and the special education student bowl together,” Harrison said.
For the most part, Harrison recruits general education students through the Peer to Peer program.
“I tell them about it, and they have been very happy to volunteer ― we’ve had a lot of regular people this year that come to all of the bowling sessions,” she said.
With increased involvement, Harrison has observed changes in the way her students interact.
“I noticed when we first started Special Olympics Bowling, there’s Middle School and High School, and they didn’t know each other and wouldn’t cross over very much, but now it’s kind of like a camaraderie thing, and it helps for students who are coming up here next year,” Harrison said. ”They feel more comfortable because they know a lot of the high school students in the program.”
According to Harrison, her students come into her room talking about their strikes, spares, and how much fun they had the night before.
“I think it really boosts their self confidence,” she said.
Consequently, students have been very excited about fundraising for Special Olympics.
“We’ve done a lot of research about Special Olympics ― how it started, why people participate in it, how it helps other people ― and then we all shared our own experiences,” Harrison said. “[The students] have been very readily volunteering to go to the different lunches and help to raise money.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday alone, Harrison’s students raised $254.75. They hope to donate the proceeds of their efforts to a Kalamazoo chapter of Special Olympics so that the money stays local.