A group of disabled athletes recently took on some River Ridge Elementary teachers in a game of wheelchair basketball. The exercise was more than just finding out which team could sink the most baskets, it capped off a week-long event at the school to ease pupils' comfort level around those with handicaps.
Athletes with Champions Made from Adversity and special needs teachers from River Ridge teamed up to show pupils that the handicapped are quite capable in many ways.
"We wanted to show the students that just because someone is in a wheelchair doesn't mean that they're that much different from anybody else," said Heather Hummell, a special education teacher who helped organize "Walk a Mile in My Shoes: Increasing Disability Awareness and Understanding" at River Ridge. "We all have families. We all have dreams."
Jeanette Thompson's dream is to compete in shotput and discus at the next Paralympics, an Olympic-style athletic event for the disabled. She was among the disabled athletes from CMFA who soundly defeated the teachers earlier this month.
"Be the change in society you know is not right," Thompson told River Ridge pupils following the game. "Even though we're in wheelchairs, we can still do amazing things."
A former sergeant in the U.S. Army, Thompson lost the use of her legs following an improvised explosive device attack in 2008 while serving in the Middle East. She moved to Augusta more than a year ago with her four children to rehabilitate at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.
During rehab, she learned of CMFA and it changed her life.
"I want to be a hero to my children," she said. "I hope I can be a hero to all children, to show them that just because I'm in a wheelchair doesn't mean I can't still do great things."
By exposing pupils to the disabled at the elementary level, Hummel said they can grow up with a greater respect for the disabled.
As part of the special week held May 3-7 at the school, which also included learning about autism, learning disabilities, and visual and hearing impairments, River Ridge teachers conducted pupil surveys before and after their visits with the disabled athletes.
Prior to "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" week, 74 percent of surveyed pupils believed those with disabilities are the same in many ways as those without them. That percentage jumped to 85 in the post-survey.
Other gains were noted from the pre- and post-survey regarding pupils' opinions of the disabled's intelligence as well as their comfort level around those with disabilities.
"Children are very open," Thompson said. "They'll ask questions adults won't about what happened to us, which we don't mind.
"That's why it's good to get them now, so they know it's OK to ask, so they learn that we're still just people."
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