Fifth-graders at Homestead Elementary have learned a lot this year. They’ve studied reading and writing, math and science. But some of the most powerful lessons they’ve learned took place outside of the classroom and focused on themselves and other students.
“I’m learning that we’re not all that different,” said Homestead fifth-grader Zoey Howell. “Some people just need more help than others.”
Howell and her fellow fifth-graders took part in the SHOUT program this year. They became “buddies” with students with special needs from two other CCSD elementary schools for a year-long learning experience.
“The buddies program is an opportunity for kids at Homestead and kids at Village East and Coyote Hills to come together and learn about differently abled kids,” said Jeff Fisher, a fifth-grade teacher at Homestead.
The SHOUT program was started by a Colorado woman named Samantha Loewi, who was diagnosed with Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy when she was 18 months old. By the time she was 10, Loewi was confined to a wheelchair and often felt invisible because she was ignored by other students at her school. When Loewi was in fourth grade, she suggested holding a one-day Special Olympics event where able-bodied students and students with special needs would come together to play games and learn about their similarities. After Loewi’s death at age 22, her mother, Pat Loewi, continued the SHOUT program and wrote a book, called The SHOUT Effect, which features artwork and words of wisdom from 90 physically and intellectually challenged young people.
Homestead Elementary adopted the SHOUT program two years ago,
“It was very important to us to really expose our kids to people who may not be exactly like them,” said Wendi Meehan, also a fifth-grade teacher at Homestead. “We feel like this program has really done that for our kids.”
The buddies got together six different times during the school year.
“The first time we just got to meet our buddies, we went outside, we did a bunch of games,” said Homestead fifth-grader Leah Kauffman. “We went bowling and we got pizza and it was very fun. We did some activities with them. We made crafts, we played bingo and we made posters.”
The culminating event was a Special Olympics day, held at Homestead on May 8. It had much of the pomp and circumstance of the real Olympics, including a torch run and the recitation of the athletes’ pledge. That was followed by lots of fun and games that all of the students could take part in.
“I have fun because I like jazz tag,” said Jordan Grimes, a fourth-grader at Village East Elementary.
“We created a Special Olympics for our SHOUT Buddies so they get to do something that normally they can’t do because they have some disabilities,” Howell explained. “We want to make sure that they are appreciated and they are included.”
The Homestead students say being buddies has been a truly rewarding experience. And the best thing about it?
“It’s just seeing them have fun and helping them,” said fifth-grader Sophie Corley. “I love it.”