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LA Unified, Special Olympics Team up for Special Needs Kids*

Jessica P. Ogilvie | November 21, 2013

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Special Olympics*Update: The district just postponed the event due to weather concerns. A new date has not been set.

Nearly 400 special needs students at two dozen San Fernando Valley schools will finish up six weeks of athletic training tomorrow by competing in a day of soccer games hosted by LA Unified and the Special Olympics.

The event, called School Games, is part of a school-based program funded by the Special Olympics that puts together sports teams for special needs students.

LAUSD was one of the first districts in the country to be approached by the Special Olympics to participate in the program, in 2006. Since then, nearly 200 schools and almost 1,000 students district-wide have gotten involved.

In addition to playing soccer in the fall, kids in the program run track and field in the spring. They can also sign up for collaborative teams, in which special needs students play alongside the general population of children.

Valarie Payne, an adapted physical education teacher at LA Unified and the chair of School Games, says that participating in team sports helps kids become physically active and learn social skills for everyday life.

“We want to give our students with special needs the opportunity to participate in these programs,” she says. “It develops lifelong skills and fitness, as well as teamwork and sportsmanship.”

The program is coached by adapted physical education teachers like Payne, who are certified to work with students who have special needs.

Carrie Hayden, a district adapted physical education teacher who oversees the School Games, says that in addition to benefitting kids, the program educates their parents.

“Families of students with special needs often don’t know what’s available,” she says. “This is a chance to show them.”

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