Partners in PE event welcomes
athletes from seven schools
A little rain was no match for Upper St. Clair High School’s second annual Put Your Best Foot Forward event on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Despite damp conditions outside, the gymnasiums were bright with smiles and laughter of more than 100 special needs athletes and their partner students from seven area high schools. A break in the clouds enabled the action to continue in the stadium.
The event was organized by the teachers of the Upper St. Clair High School’s Partners in PE class, a high school physical education class of general education students who receive their own physical education credits while supporting students with special needs. Partners in PE students also participate in a variety of social activities throughout the year.
“Our partner programs enable our students who have special needs to truly feel like part of their school community….and they should,” Michelle Zirngibl, SHOP@USC coordinator, said. “When looking into the crowd, there are not two groups of students (those with- and without disabilities), there is one large group of students cheering and celebrating victories.”
In addition to partners and athletes, the Upper St. Clair band and cheerleaders participated in the event. The band performed a variety of songs as students descended from their school buses and followed the sidewalk to the school. Upon entering the school, visiting students and teachers were greeted by cheerleaders and other students who were quick and generous with high-fives and words of welcome.
Participating high schools included Belle Vernon Area, Bethel Park, Chartiers Valley, South Allegheny, South Fayette, Washington and Upper St. Clair. Throughout the morning-long Put Your Best Foot Forward event, partners and athletes participated in a variety of activities including soccer, mat-ball and other skill-building sessions. Members of the Upper St. Clair boys and girls soccer teams provided support and encouragement on the soccer field.
“Everyone experiences support, wonder and fun! The gifts these special needs kids have to offer are rarely seen except through inclusive activities, care by others, and a diversity of opportunities offered,” Lyn Mulroy, life skills support teacher, said. “My students stayed completely engaged all day with activities and social experiences with others who valued whatever accomplishments they could demonstrate – tiny to huge.”
The Life Skills Support class at Upper St. Clair High School has also been involved with S.T.A.R.S. (Schools Together with Athletes Reaching Success), which is comprised of more than 20 area schools that host various social and athletic opportunities. The mission of the S.T.A.R.S. partnership program is to provide meaningful activities for students with and without physical and intellectual disabilities to collaborate, create and participate in activities that enrich the school curriculum.
“The S.T.A.R.S. group has allowed the continued encouragement of kids with special needs and their regular education partners to enjoy social opportunities and teamwork activities with similar groups of kids,” Lyn Mulroy, life skills support teacher, said. “As I talked with the teachers from the other school districts who continue to struggle with developing curriculums within their own school districts that mirror the ‘partner’ aspect of education for their students, I realized how incredibly supportive and forward thinking our school district is in seeing the value in encouraging and offering programs for all kids to experience working and socializing with these kids with significant special needs.”
S.T.A.R.S. coordinates interscholastic opportunities where all students can compete, participate in, and build friendships through athletic and social events. Through a collaborative, peer-driven leadership structure, individuals come together to enrich the lives of all students in the collective high school communities. Efforts are spearheaded through a collaborative group of special education teachers, physical education teachers, and transition coordinators from the various school districts.
“The value of the ‘partner’ experience could not have been better expressed today than when a special education teacher from another district asked about the supportive and loving relationships that she could actually see on the faces of some of our kids,” Lyn Mulroy, life skills support teacher, said. “She was sure the partner and special needs student were related. They are just genuine friends and buddies who share tremendous trust and joy – especially at today’s event.”
In addition to Partners in PE and S.T.A.R.S., Upper St. Clair High School offers a Partners in SHOP class that was recently selected as a Grand Prize Winner in the Magna Awards program
, sponsored by the National School Boards Association. SHOP@USC is a student-run business, which operates fully through the collaboration between students with significant disabilities and their same age peers without disabilities. Within SHOP, students produce and sell greeting cards, business cards, signs/banners, laser-engraved items and USC spirit wear merchandise.
“The compassion and empathy that our partners are developing can only be gained through opportunity…it is not something that can be taught,” Michelle Zirngibl, SHOP@USC coordinator, said. “The Partners in PE and Partners in SHOP classes are among the best programs our district has implemented.”
A variety of organizations and individuals contributed to ensure the 2017 Put You Best Foot Forward event was a success including Whole Foods, Giant Eagle - Market District, Eat-N-Park, Mrs. Berlin, Mr. Neice and Mr. and Mrs. Lucot.