News: Special Olympics Unites Students in Sports and Joyful Smiles

Under clear skies and with the Gunn High School band playing the fight song, over 200 special education students gathered on the Palo Alto Unified School District’s Special Olympic Track to demonstrate their sports skills. Among them was Saraswati Tiruchinapalli, a senior from Mountain View High School, who had just completed the 1-mile run in her second year participating in the event. She expressed her gratitude to her mother for coming to cheer her on while she ran.

The Special Olympics event was hosted by the school district in partnership with Special Olympics Northern California and the Palo Alto Special Education Community Advisory Board. 175 staff members and 15 schools in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Atherton, and Menlo Park participated in the event. Roxanne Koopman, the co-organizer of the event and adaptive physical education teacher, highlighted the smiles on the participants’ faces and their inspiration to do their best.

The event also had speeches from various school district officials, but the highlight was when Ilona Haukioja, a student at Walter Hayes University, led everyone in the Special Olympics Athlete’s Oath. This was the district’s eighth year of Special Olympics events. Angel Sheridan, who is an adaptive physical education teacher, initiated the Special Olympics program when she joined the district as she was interested in how it would benefit her students. She noticed the confidence boost that the program provided her students and how they improve year after year.

One of Sheridan’s students is Sangjun Lee, who is now a senior at Gunn High School. He participated in a one-mile race and broke his personal record with a mile of 8:02 as the crowd cheered him on. Many athletes appreciated both the opportunity to shine and the support they received. Tiruchinapalli described the athletics competition as a “very enjoyable experience” and smiled as she expressed her love for the cheers and medals she received.

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