Gregori High School’s challenged athletes claimed the league title thanks to a victory at the Johansen event on December 1. This is the second year in a row that Gregori’s challenged athletes have claimed the trophy, and special education teacher Desirree Abshire couldn’t be more proud.
“The fact that we won was really exciting to them,” Abshire said.
“It’s great to see them feel that sense of excitement and ownership.”
Athletes competed in competitions ranging from long throws to hockey and were given a score based on their performance. The three events were staged at Beyer, Enochs, and the forementioned Johansen high schools. And although it’s the athletes’ hard work that paved the way for their victory, Abshire said they couldn’t have done it without the help of the Peer Assisted Learning (PALs), run by fellow special education teacher Jill Burford.
“We had the benefit of having the PALs program, so each of our students is supported by a same or similar aged peer,” Abshire said.
“They were able to walk them through, support them if they were nervous going through one of the obstacle courses, and just really be a friend to them at the event.”
This is the first year that the PALs program has been with Gregori and Burford says that she’s already seeing an impact on campus.
“I think more and more students are becoming aware of the students around them with disabilities,” Burford said. “And I love the fact that these PALs are making the students feel a part of something, because they should.”
Abshire said the whole experience has had a huge positive effect on the way her kids act in the classroom and beyond.
Principal Jeff Albritton recognized the athletes during lunch on December 6. Albritton congratulated each athlete by name and they watched from next to him as Joe the Jaguar stood center stage and hefted the mighty trophy above his head.
“It was exciting for me to see them being recognized as high schoolers,” Abshire said. “People aren’t treating them like babies, they’re acknowledging them and being true friends to them.”
The experience has had a positive effect not just on the way others view them, but the way they view themselves.
“They feel a sense of ownership and knowing that they are responsible for their work,” Abshire said. “How hard they work is how they will benefit from it. So if they work really hard, they could have the opportunity to do great and be recognized by their principal and school, which was a big deal for them.”