By: Danee Dalphonse
Editor’s Note: The author is a Special Education teacher at Plymouth High School and a Unified Basketball Coach.
We have all said it, what a year it has been. So much change, loss, fear and wondering. I remember coming back last March from a great field trip with my students and hearing that things were going to change fast and they sure were right. What I didn’t know was what an affect it would have on my students. I have been absolutely blessed to be a special education teacher at Plymouth Regional High
School, my other home I call it, for twenty-five years. I have also coached/been an active part of unified basketball for almost a decade. After spending months on a computer with my students, (their parents, siblings, and met all the pets!) we were told we could come back to school and follow lots of guidelines for safety in September. When we got back to school, it was a tough transition for our students, but they were also eager to get back. But now we were wearing masks, sitting far away from each other, using screens, social distancing. Since March of 2020, it had been a “No, you just can’t” time. Well after missing each other, my incredible staff/friends that I have in my classroom, saw that immediately we needed something more than just school and social distancing. We needed fun. We needed to laugh.
We needed to have some “YES” in our lives. We needed each other and to make some friends and some connections. Special Olympics sent us information on the Granite Restart program. My co-worker, Julia, and I, suggested to do it after school and create a new club. That was on a Monday in September. That day, I asked permission from our administration and we had our new club started that Wednesday. It was time for some YES! Woohoo! For our first club day, we went outside with a frisbee on a beautiful day and had fun together. We took a walk, came back in, and made a snack. We visited and talked to each other and listened to music and laughed. We had other club dates in which we walked and picked leaves in the fall, did circuit training in the hallway, tried chair yoga after a long day, and got competitive with playing headbands. Some days we had a lot of kids-both typical peers and our students, and some days a little less due to all that was going on, but we went with it. Our club grew as the year went on and we added (SONH’s) Hope Challenge One in the Spring for some new goals to work towards. We were so grateful to Special Olympics to give us a springboard to our new club, just what we needed for a YES during this time.
We were so inspired with our new club, that we needed more positivity and more yes. We planned a Spread the Word to End the Word event. We had to change the date a few times due to the challenges this year, but we continued to just roll with it. I work with student council and bring it to them to also join in with our unified club and anyone else that wanted to help, and we made it happen. My awesome student teacher, Riley, had shown me the merchandise we could purchase, and I ordered the banner and some t-shirts and stickers. Love online shopping! And we just held the event this past week in May. Was it on the typical date, no.? But could we do it now, heck yes. We put up some flyers, I announced it to the whole school in the morning, I emailed information and the links to the pledge to all the high school staff, and we were ready to go. We set up a table with the banner, the stickers, lots of free candy (that works every time!), good music playing and had about ten to fifteen of us athletes, peers, and staff pulling kids in come make the pledge! So many kids wanted to know more about it (sniff sniff, loved that) and kids we would not even expect to, went, and got other kids in the cafeteria to come and make the pledge! It was a yes day, yes to connection, kindness, inclusion. Wow.
Well, it has been such a year that then I said, why not, let’s keep going? After coaching Varsity Cheer in the fall for a couple of decades on and off, I officially retired last year and passed the torch to a wonderful coach. Now I am free in the fall, what is a coach to do? Time to ask if we can start a new team for unified soccer. My first order of business was to call (SONH Director of Schools Unified Activities) Pete Cofran, my support system this year. He was my yes man. Want to try that Danee? Yes, let’s help you figure that out. So, Pete, we are not budgeted for this program and I want to propose it for this fall, our school and our kids really need another unified sport. We had twenty-nine participating in unified basketball this year, pretty sure we can have enough to start a soccer team. He helped me to map out how we could do it and brainstorm together and out a proposal came that I sent to my AD and other administrators. We are currently in the process of making this dream happen and I am looking so very forward to more yes in our life, out on a soccer field this fall. Where is the joy in all the work and change? That pride in putting on a school uniform. Getting ready and psyched up with your team before a game. High fives for a job well done. Families on the side cheering them on. Endless amounts of selfies. Making new friends. This past basketball season, one of my peers that just joined her senior year said to me at the end of the season, “I had no idea how amazing this could be for me, I thought I would just be helping others.” Doesn’t that just speak volumes? Make more YES in your life and in the lives of so many kids around you. It truly is a domino effect of positivity. Remember, be brave in your attempt!
*Just try stuff. Even if you have only three kids, well that is three kids that you are giving an opportunity to make change and try something new. It grows over time.
*Ask for help. We are trained that it is a weakness to ask, but it is a strength. I could not have done any of these events and without the support of Special Olympics, my friends/staff, and my administration.
*Do the best you can with what you have. Have fun. Make the most of it and just say yes.
Photo: L-R: Danee Dalphonse, Principal Bruce Parsons, Bryan Bresnahan, Julia Sylvia, Yi Wang, Ella Schaeffler, Paul Borsh