Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Unity Program Helps Build Bridges

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Unity Program Helps Build Bridges

Article excerpt

CLIFTON — Clifton's Play Unified students are on a roll, both figuratively and literally.

Literally, because the general education and special education athletes from both the Woodrow Wilson Middle School and Clifton High School have been practicing at Parkway Lanes in Elmwood Park in hopes of doing well at an upcoming bowling tournament.

Figuratively because the clubs, in which middle school and high school students aim to bridge the gulf between regular and special education students, have been quite active.

For instance, the club's members were invited to work out with the New York Giants football team in October as part of the Giants Play 60 program.

They also held their first unified soccer game, in which the unified team, consisting of equal numbers of Woodrow Wilson general education and special education players, squared off against the Woodrow intramural team in soccer on Nov. 4.

"This game gave siblings with and without disabilities the opportunity to play soccer on the same team for the very first time, and watching them work together was a beautiful sight," Woodrow Wilson special education teacher and Play Unified adviser Carla Rodriguez said.

The bowling is to prepare Special Olympic athletes for a statewide bowling tournament in late winter. Athletes need to have three practice games under their belt by the time of the tournament. They also play basketball and snowshoe in the winter.

The overall purpose of Play Unified is to incorporate special needs students in the day-to-day life of their schools.

Special Olympics officials say that the program works to get kids more included in social life and reduces instances of bullying. Not because of some over-arching curriculum, but because Play Unified encourages kids to interact and work it out for themselves.

"Kids are much more open, much more likely to be open to inclusion than adults," said Susan Colacello, Special Olympics NJ director of Schools & Community Partners. "This is not a buddy program or a service program. It's fully inclusive as the students come together for meaningful activites."

Clifton High School senior Tamer Abedrabbo agrees with her assessment.

He has a lot on his plate — he's trying to become a model and get into college — and says he had to drop some activities. However, he didn't want to stop being involved with the Play Unified, because the club is changing attitudes.

He can see it in the hallways as the club members and their friends interact.

"If they are not part of of your everyday life, you don't realize there are so many similarities between you and them," Abedrabbo said. "Such as, I can talk to them about what I do in my everyday life, and they do they exact same thing. There's no difference."

Likewise, Woodrow Wilson sixth-grader Marcello Murphy and his sister Zayda were on hand to help the kids perfect their bowling skills. …

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