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RESPECT

Polson students rally with special ed classmates

There was a whole lot of inclusion goin’ on at Polson High School last week.

The first ever “Respect Rally” was held Feb. 7 as a Special Olympics whole school engagement event.

Six special education high school students and their student peers participated in a series of fun activities, including carrying a marshmallow on a spoon and passing through a hula hoop while holding hands.

The rally also featured the student body cheering “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and students standing up to recognize each special ed student they knew or interacted with.

Kris Kelly, a special ed teacher, organized the event and received help from Rich Sawyer, the high school’s band teacher who is also a Link leadership program coordinator.

The Link leadership program involves juniors and seniors who volunteer to help freshmen with the transition from middle school to high school.

Thirty-five Link leadership students and 15 PHS student ambassadors helped with the rally, Sawyer said.

It was the first time the school held such an event, and Kelly plans to keep it going.

“Having this unified approach really bridges relationships between people who are different,” said April Charlo, a tribal outreach director who volunteers with Special Olympics.

The special ed students thought the event was fun.

Mercedes Dunkerson noted that classmate Chance Hoover won the marshmallow race.

“It really seemed to lift everyone’s spirits,” said Cherrish Olson, a teacher’s assistant in Kelly’s class.

“The kids feel included with all the other students and a part of the school,” said Jerrica McCrea, another teacher’s assistant.

The teacher’s assistants serve as peers with the special ed students and might sit with them during lunch, play games with them or come to their Special Olympics practices, for example.

Kelly said she had only one teacher’s assistant when she started at Polson High four years ago. Now she has 22.

Ronan High School plans to have a Respect Rally in March, and Arlee High is planning one too, Charlo said.

Area special ed students will compete in a regional Special Olympics event April 19-21 in Missoula. The state competition will be held May 17-19.

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