By: Staff Writers Mallika Gupta and Zen Thumparkkul
On Friday, February 19, MSJ’s Special Education Department participated in the Special Olympics event held at Newark Memorial High School. The Smoke Signal interviewed Special Education Teacher Sujata Singh about our students’ involvement in the region-wide event.
The Smoke Signal: Could you tell us where the event was held, and what the day was comprised of?
Sujata Singh: The event was held at Newark Memorial High School. It started at around nine with the victory lap run, which students did with imitation paper torches. There were, of course, students with special needs; some were on wheelchairs. They all took turns running around the gym. One of the students who was speech-impaired had a talking device, called an assistive technology, and was from junior high. He narrated the pledge of allegiance, and that’s how we began the sports event.
The first game was inclusive; there were general education students paired with high-functioning kids with special needs, and they played a game of basketball. Then, we were split into three categories. Those who could follow directions very clearly were paired with the like-minded group. Students who could follow directions a little bit were in another. We fell in the lowest category where there is no concept of shared play, or even following directions. We play for fun, for teamwork, so we were paired in the third category. We had three games to play, which were all held indoors. Other classes played on another basketball court. We had modified baskets, which were at a lower height. Our first game was against Logan, then it was against American, then Washington High School.
By 12:30 p.m., the Special Olympics were over. Because of the different students’ needs, some need to be fed or changed, so it’s not the whole day. It’s so precise and coordinated. There were about four school districts. There were classes from Washington High School and American High School. There was a junior high, Hayward Unified [School District], Spectrum, which is for highly-intensive students, Fremont Adult School, and many more. Our entire department [from MSJ] was there. From the district office, from the superintendent to the director, everybody was there.
The most critical element of this event for me was the inclusion of a general education student from Mission. His name is Rishi Sharma; he’s a tenth grader. He accompanied our kids, and this became a turnover game for us; the students were so motivated by Rishi playing with them. The staff were outside, but he mingled with the kids. He didn’t make the baskets, but he was telling them where to go pass it. I have never seen my students involved in all three matches to such a great extent.
SS: What awards did MSJ students win?
Singh: All of them get a ribbon, as you can see hanging over there. However, they are not allowed even to use this term, “winning”, because there are no rules being followed. Sometimes, they get only three chances to hit the ball. “Winning” is not a factor; each student gets a ribbon, a sense of achievement. Even in track and field, where there is a recorded time, all students get the recognition. They get a rousing welcome. They are provided with water, snacks, and energy bars. There are cheerleaders from Newark Memorial cheering for them, and a band playing the national anthem.
SS: Which classes participated, and how often do they participate in events like these?
Singh: From MSJ, there were Intensive-Instruction students from Mr. Tai Chung’s class, Moderate-Severe students from my class, and Moderate students from Ms. Lumain’s class. These were the three classes that participated. There are three events in a year. The first one is soccer, which was in October. This one is for basketball, and the third one for track and field will be in April.
Soccer was a tough one, since all the kids were really good at soccer. They also had wheelchair soccer and soccer for vision-impaired students. The kids who play against us also had the same disabilities; it’s nice to see how motivated they are, how much they enjoy the teamwork. When they are outside, my students feel so happy because they get to meet students that were their friends back in elementary school but got placed in other schools, as well as paraeducators that were with them when they were little kids in kindergarten. Now they’re in high school. If they [paraeducators] are still there, they go and hug them like family! We met one of our kids who graduated; he came running back to us, and it was a big reunion.
Photo Courtesy of Sujata Singh