The Oklahoma Special Olympics were held in Stillwater this week and a fine group of 35 student-athletes from across the Grove Public School entered into the events.
Participants received a rousing send-off Wednesday morning at the Grove Lower Elementary School with an Olympic torch ceremony that featured competitors running between lines of cheering well wishers.
After a day of competition at various sites across Stillwater, including some on the Oklahoma State University campus, the Olympians settled in for a night of fun at Incredible Pizza followed by an Olympic dance social.
All participants from Grove at the state-wide Special Olympics earned their spot with solid placings at the regional Olympics held in Dewey earlier this year.
The Grove Olympians stood out from the rest at with their distinctive uniforms donated by the Cowskin Fire Department. Each student-athlete received a tie-died T-shirt from the department with his or her name emblazoned on it along with the oval “G” logo that has come to represent scholastic excellence on all fronts.
The English class of GHS Special Education Instructor Janice Roberts was a hive of activity Tuesday afternoon as her students made their final preparations before leaving for the Olympics.
This year’s Olympics will be special for Roberts as it marks the first time she has been able to accompany her students to the Games.
“This is the first year I haven’t had any kids at home so that has freed me up my schedule,” she said.
“I’m excited to get to make the trip and so are the kids,” Roberts said. “We’ve been talking about it all year.”
Roberts has been an educator at GHS for 24 years and earned her undergraduate degree at Northeastern State University and also holds a master’s degree from William Woods University. She and her husband Don have been married for 30 years and the pair has raised four children; three sons and a daughter.
The trip to the Olympics for the GHS squad has involved a number of expenses and the student-athletes have put in a lot of hard work to make ends meet.
“We had a hat-day fundraiser,” Roberts explained. “Everyone in the school could buy a ticket and they were allowed to wear a hat in class for that day.
“Some of the kids at the other schools had a chili feed to help raise money,” Roberts said. “And we also received some very nice donations from the community. We’re all very appreciative of everyone who helped out.”
The Special Olympics represent a unique opportunity for the students in Roberts’ class to learn and grow.
“We focus on our strengths in this class,” Roberts said. “We look for strengths in each student and try to build on that.
“Seeing my students graduate is the most rewarding thing for me as an educator,” Roberts added.
As a life-long educator Roberts is always looking to the future and devising new ways to help her pupils gain confidence and strength.
“Most of the students at the school can learn through textbooks, and so can mine to a certain extent,” Roberts said. “But my kids’ best learning tools are things that involve hands-on experiences. We want to teach life skills. I want the kids to know how to operate a stove, how to operate a washing machine and a dryer. We want to teach them as many skills as we can for them to be as self-sufficient as possible.
“We also plan to take the kids out into the community to show them that there is a place for them there,” Roberts added.
This school year Roberts has received some assistance in her duties in the form of GHS senior Lainey Townsend as a teacher’s aide. It’s the first time Roberts has had a student aide.
“Lainey did all the footwork to become my aide,” Roberts said. “She went to Mrs. Dozier (Rene, GHS principal) and got permission. She had to double up on her subjects so that she could have this hour free to come in here.
“She’s been here every day and has been a real mentor to the kids,” Roberts continued. “She’s been a friend and has helped some of them through crisis. She is a peer and the kids relate to her easier on some levels because of that. They all love having her here.”
Townsend can’t hide her enthusiasm when she speaks of her time spent with Roberts and the class.
“Mrs. Roberts is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met and working with her and the class has been a lot of fun. She’s been a great source of support to me,” Townsend said. “Going into it all I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I’ve made some real friends here and that is something I’m really happy about.”
Besides making new friends the work that Townsend has done with the class has been rewarding personally.
“It’s a great feeling to help someone learn something,” she said. “The kids in this class possess a lot of potential and abilities that they can contribute to the community. It’s important that the special education department has all of the tools that they need because it can be a benefit for the kids in class and the community as a whole.”
Like everyone else in the class Townsend is looking forward to the Olympics.
“I’m excited about it,” she said. “Right now I plan on going to OSU after I graduate and so when everyone comes back to the Olympics next year I’ll get to see them all again.”