A procession of Olympic proportions marched up Broadway Avenue in West New York Monday morning, with over 200 students, their families, and their teachers. Their faces were brightly painted like tigers and they bore paper torches and colorful posters celebrating the upcoming 2012 London Olympic games.
The parade participants were a part of the town’s Extended School Year (ESY) program and ranged from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. Students in the program face learning and developmental challenges that include autism, special learning needs, Down Syndrome, and spina bifida.
Each year the students and their devoted team of teachers and caretakers end the summer program with a themed celebration, and this year’s choice was a popular one, according to Director of Special Services Beverly Lazarro.
“It’s a reward that lasts forever.” – Johnny “Goal Line” Davis
After the Torch Relay parade led an impressive trail from P.S. 2 on Park Avenue to the athletic field on Broadway and 56th, the older students ran relays and jumped hurdles in true Olympic style while the younger ones returned to P.S. 2 to engage in more age-appropriate revelry.
“The kids really get into it,” Assistant Director of Special Services Joanne Winters said, smiling as students leapt across the field before her. “We’ll end the summer program with a barbeque for the children, their parents, and the staff, who’ve all worked so hard.”
Special staff for a special student
“Never in my life’s dream did I think I’d be doing this, but God brought me here,” former National Football League player Johnny “Goal Line” Lee Davis said before running relays with the kids. “It’s been a dream come true.”
Davis works one-on-one with William, a child with spina bifida who is wheel-chair bound, with the Individual Education Plan (IEP) part of the school’s Special Services program.
Davis played for 10 NFL seasons after being recruited in 1978 from the University of Alabama. He won a Super Bowl ring playing for the San Francisco 49ers. After working in sales for 20 years once he retired from the NFL in 1987, he wanted something different, and set his sights on working with kids.
“I’ve been so spoiled all my life,” Davis laughed. “When you play football they put you on a pedestal, and William brought me down. I didn’t plan to be here, but it’s been the best experience of my life.”
He added, “I learn more from the kids than they learn from me. It’s a reward that lasts forever.”
The spirited ESY students spent weeks studying up on the upcoming international sporting event. They learned about geography as they researched London and the countries their favorite athletes came from, they learned what the rings stood for, and the older students watched Olympic-related movies.
“It really builds their sense of teamwork,” Lazarro said. “It gives them the chance to show their abilities in a way they may not have in a traditional academic setting.”
She added that their posters were created based on what they learned, which helped them to express themselves more freely than during the remainder of the school year.
The program, overseen and funded by the state Department of Special Services, offers students tailor made education to students who qualify. The program ensures that students with special needs have a fighting chance to keep up with state mandated curriculum, and the staff assigned with this privilege is specially certified.
“You have to make learning fun for these children,” Lazarro said. “The program is very hands-on and the staff has gone above and beyond this year. It’s wonderful to see.”
For more information on West New York’s Special Services program, call (201) 553-4000.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org