CROWLEY, Texas — Typically, most high school students can’t wait for the last day of school, but around here, they look forward to this day.
“This is my favorite day of the year,” said North Crowley senior Jaiyla Braker.
“The energy and the love in the air,” Crowley senior Kadacey Franklin said. “It’s just great to be around. It really makes you feel awesome.”
Every year, about three weeks before the last day of school, Crowley ISD throws a party called Panther Olympics. They spend the whole day celebrating every high school student in the district who has special needs. It started six years ago.
Teacher Latoya Banks just wanted her special needs students to be more interactive. She never expected them to be embraced like this. “You see nothing but smiles all day,” Banks said.
Every one of the athletes has a partner—a typical student—who spends the day by their side playing soccer, football and showing love. “The smiles on their faces just say it all,” said Avid teacher Laneece Anderson.
Anderson helps organize the event. She says Panther Olympics may only last one day, but it has had a dramatic impact on the entire school year.
“That’s probably the greatest joy of Panther Olympics, of watching our students in the hallways,” Anderson said. “It’s just them accepting our students with disabilities and knowing there’s not a difference at all.”
Far too often, kids with special needs are picked on, ridiculed or overlooked. But when we choose to set aside those differences and look instead at our core, we find a joy worth sharing.
“We get more out of it because our special needs students they know no different,” Banks said. “This is how they act every single day.”
“They just really enjoy life,” said Franklin. “And once you’re around all that positivity, it really just brightens your day.”
“We get to see their big smiles and them having fun, the time of their life,” Braker said.
As for what this day means to them, one special needs student put it this way. “Friends, together, hugs.” Turns out kindness is that easy.