Every year in April, my school hosts the Special Olympics. Our students serve as “buddies” to athletes who come to our campus with their teachers, caregivers and families to participate in two days of competition and games. It is disruptive to the regular schedule we follow, but like most disruption, it brings about a new and needed perspective and teaches different but key lessons.
The youngest students in my school make signs with words of encouragement and support while the older students accompany athletes through the games or run booths, making macaroni necklaces and painting faces with peace signs and flowers.
Yesterday, I saw one of our students pick up a young child in distress and hold him in his arms. Although this teenager is exceptional in many ways, what he did was ordinary – he saw a need and filled it. On different levels and to varying degrees, that’s what most of our students had the opportunity to do – and did – during these two days.
While we often talk in our classrooms about the power of empathy and the importance of service, nothing we say is quite as impactful for our students as this experience. It confirms that school is about so much more than papers, tests, grades, personal achievement, and mission statements. Abstract notions about community can’t hold a candle to the real thing.