Project Unify bowls over Northside Lanes
As the 7-10 splits and strikes totaled up, Northside Lanes was the backdrop for a fun-filled morning Thursday.
Project Unify, a program that is sponsored by the Special Olympics, bridges the gap between special education and general education students. It allows those with special needs to participate with students from other schools, as well as buddies from their own schools.
Five area schools participated in the event, which was hosted by North Augusta and South Aiken High Schools. Midland Valley, Silver Bluff and Wagener-Salley were the other participants.
"Midland Valley was the original group, then we had four schools, and we participate within the county," said Lauren Dukes, lead special education teacher at North Augusta High School. "We have four competitive events each year, which is what we shoot for. We bring all of our schools together ... and the biggest thing that it has taught our kids is that they can participate in the skills that they may not have thought they could have. It has also taught our regular education students that they can participate as well."
The events aren't about who wins, but rather teaching sportsmanship and giving kids an opportunity that they may not otherwise have.
"We have students with various disabilities, from moderate to severe and profound and varying abilities," said Brittney Irilli, a special education teacher at North Augusta High School. "We also have our buddies from the Buddy Club. Each of our students have a buddy assigned to them, and they're pretty good about floating around and sharing the love."
In January, both Dukes and Irilli's classes, along with their buddies, attended an event at Silver Bluff High School for flag football.
"It is a state-funded grant that is accessed through all schools within South Carolina," Dukes said. "In Aiken County, we are thankful that it has been encouraged by our Department of Special Programs for all of our high schools, and now we're involving it in our middle schools. Paul Knox actually was given the grant this year, so we're excited to have them join us as well. It's been great to have them for students who have either grown up with other students at other schools or have a cousin in another school."
The success of the event was on display with the smiling faces of all of those involved.
"It's a blast to see everyone interacting and seeing the various levels and everyone getting along," Irilli said. "Our kids are willing to help everybody - their peers with special needs and without. It's great, and I love to see everyone high-fiving and having fun."