Duckworth students show athletic skills
For five years, Allison McMillan of Laurel has watched her son, Nathan, compete in the annual Challenge Day, a day of athletic events for disabled students at James E. Duckworth School in Beltsville. It never gets old.
"No matter how many years we come, I get really overwhelmed," McMillan said, moments before her son a 13-year-old developmentally disabled wheelchair user pulled a lever to launch a plastic disc in the discus event. "As a mom, you can't even begin to explain when you see so many people focused on working with your child."
The school's 90 students who range from ages 5 to 21 and have disabilities including cerebral palsy and autism all participate in the event, which was first held at the school in 1994. The event is now held at several Prince George's County schools and offers a moment of athletic glory to students whose disabilities prevent them from competing in the Special Olympics.
On Friday, two months of practice were capped with participants demonstrating their motor skills in events including basketball, javelin, shot put, biking, running and dance.
"Dream it; believe it; achieve it," said Duckworth Principal Catherine Sabatos, repeating the event's theme. "They want to achieve and they want to be successful ... the experience that the children have is really phenomenal."
Duckworth students participate in a yearlong mentoring program, where students from Beltsville K-8 Academy, Concordia Lutheran School in Hyattsville and John Nevins Andrews School in Takoma Park regularly visit and guide partners through activities like arts and crafts, games and reading.
For the past two months, the mentors helped students practice their athletic events in preparation for Friday.
"It's changed my mindset about people with [disabilities]. They're more active than I thought they would be," said Ever Segovia, 13, an eighth-grader at John Nevins Andrews who lives in Washington, D.C. "This lets them know that they can participate."
There were more than 200 people at Challenge Day, including Fatmata Minah and her daughter, Jemima Margai, of Beltsville. Margai, a 24-year-old wheelchair user, was a student at the school from ages 5 to 21, and participated in many Challenge Days.
"The Duckworth School is our Harvard for special schools," Minah said. "I'm always advocating for our children, because Duckworth is part of me and I'm part of Duckworth."
Challenge Day was organized and funded by volunteers from various organizations, including the Apartment and Office Building Association, which donates annually and helps clean the school's grounds before the event.
Archstone Apartments donated $10,000 to Duckworth's parent-teacher organization, which plans to use some of the money to build a canopy above the school's playground for light- and heat-sensitive students. Donations will also be used to maintain facilities and buy learning equipment.
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