While waiting for the games to begin at Chapel Hill High School, Lucia Romano looked up to see an old friend. Immediately her face lit up and the junior from Carrboro High School rushed over to give her friend a big hug.
To Romano, this is what makes adapted field day for special-education students so special.
“Field day I can meet really great friends, you know?” she said. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen them. And I like to have fun and play with my friends.”
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools held its annual adapted field day for special-education students May 18 at Chapel Hill High. The half-day event, which is in its 10th year, was open to all middle- and high-school students in the district.
And although the early morning mist and below-average May temperatures made for a brisk day on the field, the weather didn’t deter more than 75 participants, volunteers, parents and teachers.
“These students ask me every time they see me, ‘When are we going to do field day again?’” said Roberto Aponte, adapted physical education specialist for the district. “They look forward to it every year.”
Randy Trumbower, a special-education teacher at Chapel Hill High, said created field day with Aponte to give students an out-of-the-ordinary and memorable experience.
Participants have a range of cognitive and physical disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and blindness.
“It’s an opportunity for them to do something different in their day,” he said. “They get to play games that may or may not be in their normal field, but it gives them an opportunity to get out and enjoy themselves.”
Participants had a chance to rotate through several stations, including bocce, Frisbee throw, long jump, bean bag throw, T-ball, and javelin throw. There were also art and music stations.
The program concluded with a 40-meter-dash for all participants and a large group parachute activity.
As its name suggests, some games had to be adjusted to accommodate for participants, Trumbower said. For instance, instead of a typical javelin, organizers used styrofoam arrows that are light and easy to grip. And instead of a 2.5 pound discus, participants threw an item that is more like a frisbee.
Plus, in addition to a typical board with cut-out holes for the bean bag throw, organizers also gave participants the opportunity to throw the bean bags into hula hoops on the ground, which made for a larger target.
“These kids don’t have as much of an opportunity for physical education,” said Aponte. “We’re allowing them the opportunity to move and perform.”
Field day I can meet really great friends, you know? It’s been a while since I’ve seen them.
Student Lucia Romano
Tabitha McKean, a teacher’s assistant at Project Achieve for Transitioning High School Students, said she appreciates the opportunity to provide her students with a typical high school experience.
PATHSS is a transition program for special-needs students aging out of high school.
“They aren’t included in a lot of the functions of a regular high school because we’re on UNC’s campus,” she said. “So it’s great for them to have the opportunity to interact with other kids here.”
‘What really matters’
Aaron Persons, a senior participant from Carrboro High School, said that while he enjoys the games (especially bocce ball), he said his favorite part is “hanging out with my friends and the others.”
“That’s what really matters: my friends,” he said as he smiled and pointed out two friends playing nearby.
Aponte said the event has been so well-received that they hope to expand next year to include elementary school students. That change might require moving to a new venue in order to accommodate all of the students, he said.
Trumbower said the event wouldn’t be possible without the help of Chapel Hill High volunteer students, who work directly with students with disabilities during field day and also lead the physical activities at each station.
Hudson Price, a senior at Chapel Hill High who volunteered, said the event is just as rewarding for him as it is for the participants.
“A lot of people think these kids can’t function well but they’re all smart kids – they just have a disability,” he said. “It’s fun to come out here and help them and see them having a great time.”
For Trumbower, his mission for field day over the last decade can be summed up in a picture that a mother gave him a few years ago.
In the picture, a blind student is giving Trumbower a hug. Written as a caption to the photo, a quote from Mark Twain: “Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
“This event is all about them and giving them this experience,” he said. “I love seeing their faces and seeing them smile while they’re here. It’s something I look forward to every year.”