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Special Olympics Brings Social and Physical Support for Students in Extended School Year Program

Emmett Schott, 19, a student at Falcon High School, gives a thumbs up after throwing a bocce ball June 7 at SCHS. Representatives from the southeast Colorado Special Olympics regional office taught bocce ball to students enrolled in District 49's extended school year program June 7 at Sand Creek High School.

The extended year program serves qualifying students with special needs for four weeks at the beginning of the traditional summer break. The program focuses on retaining information and skills that students learn during the traditional school year. The extra learning helps increase retention and ensures a strong start to the school year.

Secondary students from across the district attend ESY at Sand Creek High School. Students in younger grades attend ESY at one of three campuses. Students are bused to and from their home as part of the program.

"When we are in the classroom we are working hard on reading and math," said Bridgette Martin, ESY coordinator for secondary students. "A lot of the students have social goals too and this is a practical and fun way to work on those goals."

"It's an opportunity for a social environment and giving them exposure to something they don't normally have."

Bocce ball is played with eight large balls and one smaller target ball called a pallina, according to Jolie Nesmith, Special Olympics southeast Colorado regional manager.

"The object is for one or more of your teams' balls to be closer than any of your opponents balls to the pallina at the end of every set," said Nesmith. "The game promotes throwing, visual space and aiming at a target skills."

Special Olympics Colorado entered into a formal partnership with District 49 special education during the 2016-2017 school year.

"District 49 came in as an entirely unified school district," said Nesmith. "It's creating an inclusive environment in the schools. Putting students from the general population on the same team as a student with special needs helps break down barriers."

Nesmith says participating in different activities helps grow camaraderie within a school's student body.

"The sense of community in their school is huge," she said.

ESY students and assistants play bocce ball during the extended school year program June 7.   Kai Stevens, 12, seventh-grader at Skyview Middle School, throws a bocce ball June 7.   David Barry, 17, Falcon High School twelfth-grader, throws a bocce ball during ESY June 7 at Sand Creek High School.

"I love it how excited he gets when he's throwing the ball," said Elena Villasenor, Remington Elementary School nurse, about her son, James, 12, seventh-grader at Horizon Middle School. "It's only three days in and he's getting up excited to come every morning."

Villasenor said the ESY program is providing unique learning opportunities to James outside of the traditional school year.

"He's doing things I never through he'd be able to do," said Villasenor. "Even though he's wheel chair bound, yesterday he was climbing over boxes."

Students from Power Technical Early College in District 49 build plywood boxes for the ESY students to use as part of a cross fit introduction.

"Watching them grow and expand is amazing," said Villasenor.

Dawnise Sandwick, Falcon Middle School severe special needs instructor, cheers ESY students on June 7.   Sand Creek High School student Janessa Valentine, 19, gets bocce ball instruction from Special Olympics staff June 7.   James Villasenor, 12, a student at Horizon Middle School, throws a bocce ball June 7.

Matt Meister