Springfield High School and the SAILL Program are spreading the word
Springfield High School and the SAILL Program are spreading the word

One of the goals of the Springfield School District's SAILL Program (the Springfield Apartment and Independent Living Lab) is to encourage participating students to make connections in their community. SAILL, run in the high school through the district's special education department, was created to provide students a highly specialized learning environment designed to help prepare them for life after high school. An 850 square foot studio apartment located on the high school campus allows students and staff the opportunity to create "real-life" scenarios related to daily living, self-reliance, negotiating group dynamics, and navigating the community.

Of note, the community connections made this year are remarkable. Thanks to the efforts of the students in the SAILL and Life Skills programs, over 900 students and faculty in Springfield High School participated in the "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign through the Special Olympics. The students in SAILL and Life Skills were the organizers of the drive; one of their ideas was to support the campaign with a pledge, which they had printed on poster boards: "I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."

SHS staff members coordinating the campaign purchased "Spread the Word" t-shirts and bracelets. The students requested signatures for the pledge through lunch; signers received a bracelet. "The Life Skills and SAILL students, all whom have social skills goals, were tasked with walking through the Main Cafeteria, as well as the Seniors Cafeteria, and verbally asking students for signatures for their pledge boards," explains Melissa Seifried, Learning Assistant for the SAILL program. "This truly proved to be beneficial to both our individuals with intellectual disabilities, as well as the students without intellectual disabilities."

In addition, the students obtained signatures faculty and staff from every department, including District Administration. The abundance of participation and support necessitated two pledge boards to accommodate well over 900 signatures. For the remainder of the school year, the finished pledge boards will be displayed outside the school cafeteria, as well as the main office at the High School. The campaign was a true display of student leadership and high school community.

Throughout the academic year, these same students have been making connections on the court as well, as members of the Springfield High School Unified Bocce Team. The team is built of individuals with and without intellectual disabilities; student-athletes are from the SAILL apartment, the Life Skills classroom, and the Springfield Buddies Club participate on the team. "It is much more than just athletes and buddies coming together to toss a ball," explains Ms. Seifried. "One significant goal of the SAILL program is to make connections with our Springfield community whenever it is feasible. Meeting players and athletes from other schools helped out student to interact with several new acquaintances. Our teammates might even find themselves working in a place of employment, side-by-side with some of these individuals!"

Marco, grade 10 "Rolling the balls."
Bobby, grade 9 "Trying to hit the yellow ball."
Faith, grade 9 "Hanging with my friends."
Patrick, grade 9 "Being interviewed with Mr. Baker."
Patrick, grade 9 "Seeing myself on TV at the board meeting."
Faith, grade 9 "Traveling on the bus to away games."
Bobby, grade 9 "When my basketball team came to see me play."
Marco, grade 10 "I loved when all the kids cheered for me at the pep rally."
Jack, grade 12+ "The excitement of walking out on the court for the first time and everyone cheering for me."
Nick, grade 12+ "Getting cheered on by my teammates and family."

SHS's Unified Bocce Team recently competed in their first complete season, ending with an impressive record of four wins and four losses. The team earned a bronze medal at district playoffs, where 15 different teams from Delaware County gathered to compete at Marple Newtown High School. They capped off their impressive performance with a friendly competition against the Board of School Directors and high school administrators; the Unified Bocce Team won 11-2, and were recognized for their efforts at a School Board meeting.

"The Bocce team has helped our students to get more involved with others in the school community and has helped them all to build an everlasting friendship," shares Ari Bleicher-Nugent, who leads the SAILL program. "It was awesome getting to see everyone take part in the pep rally. It truly was the highlight of the year for many of our athletes. Having the support of students, staff and administration has been amazing. Bocce is continuing to grow and we hope to have it recognized as a school sport. A special thanks to all athletes, buddies and the coaches involved as this season wouldn't have been possible without all of them."

"The Bocce team has helped out students to realize that they can do anything that they put their minds to," shares Megan Charitonchick, special education teacher. "They are able to get out of their comfort zones and try something new with other roommates and buddies."

"The sport of Bocce is continuing to grow; students and teachers stop us in the hallways and ask how they too can get involved," adds Ms. Seifried. "They truly want to become a part of this growing sport, and participate in the competitive matches as well. We are already planning for next season and seeking out ways to make this a more school-wide movement, with increased involvement and school-wide participation."

Now that would be a community connection.

For a slideshow of photos from the SHS Unified Bocce Team match vs. the SSD Board and Administration, please click on the image below.