AFT and Special Olympics:
Special Olympian inspires delegates, urges involvement
Figure skater featured in convention segment on community service
If any delegates at Friday’s opening session were thinking about volunteering with the Special Olympics program, it took about 30 seconds of listening to Illinois Special Olympian Angie Picchi to see what incredible rewards can come from working with people with disabilities. Picchi, who competes internationally as a figure skater, brought the delegates to their feet with an inspiring talk about what the Special Olympics program has done for her and other children and adults.
AFT executive vice president Antonia Cortese welcomes Special Olympian Angie Picchi to the 2008 AFT convention.
Her remarks were part of a segment led by AFT executive vice president Antonia Cortese highlighting the union’s long tradition of community service. The AFT’s involvement as a prime supporter of Special Olympics is just one recent example of labor working together with the community to promote the common good. Many AFT members are active in the program as coaches and volunteers.
“You guys are great,” Picchi said, “not only for your support of Special Olympics but also for your patience and support in teaching children with disabilities. Your open minds and caring hearts have given us a chance to amaze the world with our ability to learn.”
She talked about her lifelong desire to be a figure skater, despite her mother’s fear that a child with Down syndrome would not have the balance or muscle strength to do it. But once Picchi took her first class at age 12—and met the coach who has worked with her for 15 years—she felt she “could do anything on ice, as long as I kept on trying.”
Picchi echoed Cortese’s call for the delegates to volunteer with Special Olympics. “I promise you will have a great time if you join us,” she said.
The session opened with a video highlighting the efforts of the AFT and its members—not only in Special Olympics, but in other recent projects such as helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina, working to raise money to fight cancer, and Thursday’s community event/health fair at Chicago’s Bass Elementary School.
Cortese closed by urging delegates to visit the Greater Together Action Center and talk with volunteers from Special Olympics in Illinois who will be on hand to answer questions about how to get involved. “You and your members will feel pride in your union, and your community members will feel pride in having teachers and unions who care deeply about their sons and daughters,” Cortese said. “By coming together, we really are greater than one.”
—AFT Convention Summary, Friday, July 11, 2008
Special Olympics is labor of love for volunteer from New York affiliate
Nancy Logan can tell plenty of stories about people who got hooked after their first experience volunteering with Special Olympics. “A lot of people come by to help out for an hour, and they end up staying for 10 years,” jokes Logan, a teacher and special education department chair at Nanuet (N.Y.) High School. Logan should know—the AFT member started volunteering with the program when she was in high school, and some 30 years later, she still loves it despite the vast amount of time she puts in.
The AFT is hoping to get more members to follow Logan’s example. As part of a new partnership with Special Olympics, the national union recently signed on to help sponsor the first USA National Games in Ames, Iowa, in July. At the games, the AFT will provide transportation for athletes, coaches, volunteers and family members as they move from their dorms and hotels to the Festival Village and event locations. The union also has endorsed the Special Olympics’ “SO Get Into It” service-learning curriculum for all grade levels, which consists of lesson plans, activities and videos promoting student and teacher awareness and understanding of—and involvement in—Special Olympics.
The aim of Special Olympics is to empower individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit and productive through sports training and competition. It offers children and adults year-round training and competition in 26 Olympic-type sports.
Over the years, Logan has been involved with the program at every level—from local competitions to the World Games—as a coach, official, coordinator and any other job that needed to be filled. “I love sports and I love working with special needs kids,” she says. “So this seemed like a perfect match.”
As a special ed teacher, Logan says, she doesn’t always see big gains with her students in the classroom. School is something that often is hard for them, so they get frustrated and angry. Outside of school, “they exhibit skills we never see in the classroom,” she says, noting that they are more confident and outgoing.
Regular education students also have a great experience when they volunteer with Special Olympics, she says.
“The students in the high school see the athletes in a different way,” Logan explains. “Many of them come back very impressed. It really is an eye-opener for them.” And the same enthusiasm holds true with other school staff: “I haven’t had anyone yet say it was a waste of time to volunteer.”
— American Teacher, May/June 2006
AFT and Special Olympics join forces
Partnership will strengthen outreach to educators and schools
The AFT has joined forces with Special Olympics. The two national organizations plan to work together in a variety of ways that will strengthen Special Olympics outreach to educators and schools. The AFT is also encouraging its state and local affiliates to become involved in Special Olympics. The AFT will be a sponsor of the first USA National Games in Ames, Iowa in July. At the games, the union will help sponsor transportation for athletes, coaches, volunteers and family members as they move from their dorms and hotels to the Festival Village and event locations. The AFT logo will be prominently displayed on the vehicles.
The union also has endorsed the Special Olympics’ “SO Get Into It” service-learning curriculum for all grade levels, which consists of lesson plans, activities and videos promoting student and teacher awareness and understanding of—and involvement in—Special Olympics. “The AFT is uniquely poised to implement this program in classrooms through state and local affiliates and members,” says AFT executive vice president Antonia Cortese.
Many AFT members, especially special education teachers, serve as coaches and volunteers with Special Olympics, and some AFT affiliates have collaborated in the past with local Special Olympics programs.
A joint letter from AFT president Edward J. McElroy and Special Olympics president and CEO Bruce Pasternack has been sent to AFT state federations and their Special Olympics counterparts.
Special Olympics is dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit and productive through sports training and competition. It offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round training and competition in 26 Olympic-type sports.
To learn more about the “SO Get Into It” service-learning curriculum, visit www.specialolympics.org/getintoit.
American Teacher, March/April 2006