United in Sports Service Learning Project
The value of team sports goes beyond the score. Sports can support social and personal development throughout life. But what happens when you want to play but can’t participate? The Winchendon School’s (TWS) Service Learning Project United in Sports began to tackle that question at the end of the 2016-17 school year. Collaborating over the summer months with the school superintendents for Gardner, Narragansett, and Winchendon K-12, the project student leaders Justin ’18 and Seth ’18, discovered the lack of an organized sports league for special needs students in North Central Massachusetts. Believing every child has the right to play sports, Justin and Seth partnered with community leaders, learned how to overcome the limitations of special needs students and recruited volunteers to bring the joy of a soccer game to 15 area kids who had never played on a team before.
Using the successful model of the Miracle League, a baseball only program providing opportunities for children with disabilities to play, and Special Olympics: Unified Sports Program, Seth, a four-year senior, and Justin built their program with volunteers serving as “buddies,” assisting and encouraging the players and keeping them safe on the playing field.
The TWS Service Learning model begins with student driven ideas. For 2017-18, the school offers 19 Service Learning programs broken into five categories. Student leaders attend a conference before the school year begins and work to hone their leadership skills twice a week in a credit class.
Service Learning Versus Community Service
Service Learning programs differ from Community Service in five distinct ways:
- Incorporates Intentional Learning Goals
- Emphasizes Understanding Before Action
- Students Lead Projects
- Service Learning Emphasizes Building Partnerships
- Achievement Measured Not Hours Spent
At TWS, Service-Learning is deliberate, purposeful, and a core signature program. Students in United in Sports, are learning how to make a program successful and the special needs players feel accomplished. Chloe B.’19, a TWS day student, wraps it up best, “…you have to focus on their abilities and what they [the players] can do because there’s more that they can do than they can’t.”