Special and General Education Meet on the Court

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Ki Joon Lee

Freshman Molly Lamon-Paredes practices in the gym during her physical education period. Adaptive PE teacher Erie Eastman closely assists students to teach correct form and helps ensure each student enjoys the activity.

By Maya Sabbaghian and Helena Hu

Built upon a foundation of developing understanding and friendship, Unified Sports is a program that brings special education and general education students together through sports. The first unified game on campus is a basketball game planned for Feb. 4. It will last roughly ten minutes and will be between the girls’ and boys’ varsity basketball games.

After participating in a unified track meet and seeing the relationship between students at Trabuco Hills High last spring, special education department chairs Melody Resendez and Desiree Santos-Shaffer were inspired to start their own program on campus. 

“[The students] just did running events, and we actually made it to the next round, too,” Resendez said. “We didn’t even anticipate that; we have some students that are very athletic, and some that may not be extremely athletic, but they like running, so it is a really great internal motivator for them. To see their peers doing it, it’s huge. It’s more reinforcing than it is for us running alongside them.”

General education students help mentor and guide the special education students, competing alongside them. 

“To me, the importance of Unified Sports is astronomical,” sophomore Michelle Kim said. “In order to achieve a safe space for all students, whether or not they have learning differences, we need to take clear steps to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate. I feel like sports are a great way to boost our physical and emotional health.”

Unified Sports offers a variety of competition levels, but the team will start out on an exhibition level, as the goal is to encourage athletes to try their best and to have fun. 

“Since we did it last year, and we only did it that one time, we noticed that our kids were really excited to be a part of a big activity like this, just being with their peers, being with their friends outside of school over the weekend, and I think they enjoyed having another thing that they could shine in,” Shaffer said. 

For some of the students, it is the little things that count.

“My favorite part is wearing a uniform,” sophomore Jazmin Herrera said. 

“I enjoy playing sports with others. My favorite part is shooting hoops and having fun,” junior Justin Silva said. 

“I like to be with my friends. It makes me happy,” junior Josh Ong said.  

Playing in sports can present certain challenges for special education students. While the students participating are at the heart of the program, it is often a family endeavor and requires the support of parents eager to encourage their child in the same way that their children are supported in the classroom.

“I think for some families, they’re all on board, and they are excited to have as many opportunities as their child can get, and then sometimes they are apprehensive because they don’t know how [their child] is going to respond,” Resendez said.  “I think when they can see [their child] be successful in something like that, it’s empowering to the family, and it really shows them what they are capable of.”

This story was originally published on Portola Pilot on January 28, 2020.