With the Skyview High School marching band rehearsing nearby, students at Aki Middle School donned jerseys and shin guards on a recent afternoon. The Alki Wolves were gearing up for three soccer tournaments this month that bring together students of all abilities.
This is the first year that the Unified Champion Schools program has been offered in VPS for sixth through eighth-graders at several schools, thanks to a grant from the Special Olympics. The organization also helped fund basketball and soccer programs at the high school level a few years ago.
Fifteen Alki students from the leadership class and structured communication program worked through a series of warm-ups and stretches. Then they moved onto skills: those that can be used in soccer, like passing, as well as social skills that can be used off the pitch.
This reinforces lessons students already learn in the SCP classroom. Sixth-grader Marcus Berry explains:
“If we’re doing a practice and don’t remember some of our player’s names, we say their name before we hit the ball and pass it over to our partner.”
The reaction to the program has been positive, says coach and SCP teacher Niki Vigorito:
“Out here, with the one-on-one support of the leadership kids, they’re doing awesome.
“The leadership kids have been amazing. They have positive attitudes. They’re so willing to jump in and help somebody out.”
One of those leadership kids is eighth-grader Reagan Griffith, a soccer player since she was a toddler who also is on a club team.
“I know a lot of skills from my team, so I know it’s really fun to show them the different skills that I have, like how to pass, how to dribble.”
But it’s the connections forged through the Unified program that really stand out for Reagan:
“I just get to interact with different people I’ve seen around the school, but I haven’t talked to them.”
Just as they practice together, the students will play together. Everyone on the team participates. Those unifying experiences and new friendships are what make a school even stronger as everyone learns what it means to be a community—and has a good time in the process, according to Marcus.
“It’s also a pretty fun game.”