Pairs of middle and high school students from across Ann Arbor competed in the first Unified Sports Day at Pioneer High School Friday. The teams were made up of peer-to-peer mentoring program participants and students in special education classrooms. The students have worked together and built meaningful relationships throughout the school year.
The teams competed in events like the 50-yard dash, the standing long jump, a four by 100 relay, the softball throw, and a bocce tournament. Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Support Services Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley says the work leading up to the event guaranteed a great outcome regardless of the scores in any event. “Our athletes have team buddies, every student is paired up so there is a great support system to make this really successful,” Dickinson-Kelley says.
Gloria O’Neill coordinates the district’s peer-to-peer programs. She says the programs are a great example of one of the core principles of Ann Arbor Public Schools. “This really exemplifies what we put on paper, beliefs and values about being strong when we work together, the inherent value of each individual,” O’Neill says.
Mary Duerksen was one of many community volunteers at the event. Her son Matthew is an 11th grade student at Skyline High School in the deaf and hard of hearing classroom. Duerksen says her son is getting more of a complete high school experience thanks to the peer-to-peer program. “Once a month they do after school social gatherings, parties. And they spend time with the kids just hanging out and doing things that teenagers do, which my son doesn’t really get an opportunity to do otherwise,” Duerksen says.
The program helps Matthew, but Dureksen says his mentor is benefiting as well. “His mentor has been with him all year and has actually decided to go to school and become a teacher of children with special needs because of her experience,” Duerksen says.
Dickinson-Kelley hopes the success of the first Unified Sports Day leads to an even bigger event. “We’ve always sort of envisioned having a Special Olympics for the Ann Arbor Public Schools students and families and this was our first step in that direction.