In the beginning of March, a handful of physical education and special education teachers and paraprofessionals launched a Unified Sports program in the Orange schools. Through this program, which is a registered program of the Special Olympics, students with special needs work with non-disabled peers on developing and strengthening sports and social skills on a non-competitive sports team. The Unified Sports Program was in place and available to students at Amity Middle School and Amity Regional High School and Eric Rothbart, a physical education teacher, thought it made sense to offer the program to elementary school students, too. “The idea is that by offering this program at the elementary level, we can connect the pathway for special ed and other students in a program that takes then from six to 18 years old,” Rothbart said.
“It has been a great addition. As it grows, we’ll see the connections grow between children and a nice support system with the peer students,” he said.
Rothbart is working with Diane Downey, LCSW District Social Worker and Jaime Horowitz (special education) and about 40 students including those with special needs and their peers. “Part of the program is that the special needs children are paired with grade level mentors. They are good models of the type of behavior we’d like all children to follow and through these friendships, we hope for a smoother transition from sixth grade to middle school,” he said.
After two months of practicing, the experience culminates with athletic games where the group, appropriately named “Team Orange,” represented Orange at a statewide event with other local schools on Saturday, April 2nd at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven. The field-day style event features bowling, tee-ball, and other non-competitive sports. There is no scoreboard and no officials.
In addition to coaching the Unified Sports Program, Rothbart also leads the “Young Athletes” Program at the Kindergarten level, which has been incorporated into the Kindergarten curriculum. They had their culminating event on March 23rd at Mary L. Tracy School.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent