The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

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The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Pathfinder

The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Pathfinder

Unleashing smiles

Parkway West’s annual Special Olympics
Performing+a+dance%2C+athletes+wave+their+pompoms+in+the+air+as+special+education+teacher+Wendy+Zieleskiewicz+stands+behind+them.+Zielesckiewicz%2C+who+has+been+teaching+for+25+years%2C+didn%E2%80%99t+know+what+she+wanted+to+pursue+until+she+remembered+her+love+for+children.+She+now+sees+her+students+benefiting+from+Special+Olympics.+%E2%80%9CIts+really+fun+to+see+%5Bathletes%5D+grow.+%5BSpecial+Olympics+is%5D+incredible+%E2%80%94+Its+high+energy%2C+its+a+lot+of+fun.+Its+cool+to+see+the+kids+all+working+together+and+having+a+good+time.+They+make+connections+with+other+students%2C+%5Band%5D+its+amazing+to+see+how+much+fun+they+have.+I+hope+that+they+can+make+and+maintain+relationships+with+people+that+are+not+in+this+classroom.+I+always+encourage+%5Bmy+students%5D+to+participate+%5Bin+Special+Olympics%5D+because+it+is+a+lot+of+fun+and+even+if+they+dont+make+a+best+friend%2C+you+still+have+an+opportunity+to+grow%2C%E2%80%9D+Zieleskiewicz+said.
Alli VanValkenburgh
Performing a dance, athletes wave their pompoms in the air as special education teacher Wendy Zieleskiewicz stands behind them. Zielesckiewicz, who has been teaching for 25 years, didn’t know what she wanted to pursue until she remembered her love for children. She now sees her students benefiting from Special Olympics. “It’s really fun to see [athletes] grow. [Special Olympics is] incredible — It’s high energy, it’s a lot of fun. It’s cool to see the kids all working together and having a good time. They make connections with other students, [and] it’s amazing to see how much fun they have. I hope that they can make and maintain relationships with people that are not in this classroom. I always encourage [my students] to participate [in Special Olympics] because it is a lot of fun and even if they don’t make a best friend, you still have an opportunity to grow,” Zieleskiewicz said.

Rising to the occasion, West hosted its 21st Special Olympics on Wednesday, Feb. 21. Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, Special Olympics was created in response to discriminatory actions and behaviors against people with intellectual disabilities.

The first games began in Chicago, Ill. in 1968 at the Chicago Solider Field and have continued to spread for decades. Regional program director Jocelyn Diehl has been with Special Olympics Missouri for 13 years. 

“Our athletes excel at things I never could and it touches me personally how meaningful our program is in so many lives. I also love having student-athletes volunteer at our events because I can see first-hand how their experiences change their mindset about the skills of our athletes,” Diehl said.

Student body president Andrew Son smiles as he accepts a certificate. Teacher and co-sponsor of the Longhorn student council, Emily Lovercheck helped run the day smoothly for athletes, teachers and students. “Special Olympics is a great activity that we offer here at West and is a great way for everyone to get involved and just have a really good time. It’s a way to bring the whole community together and bring everybody together no matter their differences. Everyone comes together taking away differences unifying and uniting for this one great event,” Lovercheck said. (Alli VanValkenburgh)

From Africa to the Asian Pacific, Special Olympics takes place worldwide.

Everything [Special Olympics] does is tied to our mission of providing opportunities to those with intellectual disabilities. The mission [of Special Olympics]  drives every professional decision I make. It’s helpful to have a guiding set of values to lead us and to have personal relationships with our athletes so I know exactly whom I’m serving and helping” Diehl said. 

West hosts a basketball tournament for the organization, with over 10 schools across the St. Louis area participating, and over 100 students volunteering to make the day run smoothly.

“I love the interactions I’m able to have with our athletes but one of my favorite parts of the job is leading our coaches. They are such a special and selfless group of volunteers who live out our mission daily. I get to see everyone at competitions where everyone is living their best lives,” Diehl said.

“My ultimate goal of student volunteers’ experience with Special Olympics is learning and appreciating the abilities of our athletes so in a community or professional setting, they would feel more comfortable interacting together, working together and socializing together,”

— Jocelyn Diehl

A variety of activities occur over the day. Basketball games take place in the main gym as ‘Victory Village’ holds face painting. Meanwhile, the small gym hosts hockey and lacrosse shooting. Bracelets and necklaces are available for athletes to decorate. Special Education teacher Lauren Perez is the coordinator for Special Olympics at West.

“As a special education teacher, Special Olympics is an awesome opportunity to allow kids that wouldn’t otherwise be able to access athletics and to have a chance to be a winner and a champion. To show their friends that they can do it,” Perez said.

Smiling, junior Zoey Ware jogs alongside her buddy athlete during Special Olympics. Ware’s buddy got the opportunity to be in the opening ceremony and pass the torch. “My favorite part of Special Olympics was the experience I got to have. I learned how to have patience and put myself in other people’s shoes for a day,” Ware said. (Alli VanValkenburgh)

Taking over the coordinator role in 2018, Perez says it’s about providing an opportunity for kids that wouldn’t have it in other aspects. Students and athletes spend the day together, for lunch students and athletes are provided with lunch through Raising Cane’s.

“My favorite part is watching West High kids love helping other kids who are athletes and need buddies. Watching kids be fulfilled and just kind of have that moment of ‘this is why we do this’ it just gives me warm fuzzies,” Perez said.“It’s such a cool thing that kids will get a lot of fulfillment out of a new experience, having that service opportunity to help other people and have a day that’s not about them. Many teenagers don’t have those opportunities to help other people and realize how truly rewarding that can be.” 

Athlete and senior Elizabeth Doyon has participated in multiple Special Olympics over 3 years.

“I’m looking forward to coming out and hanging out with my friends. I’m also looking forward to meeting new people. [If I had to say one word about Special Olympics I would say] amazing but also, scary. You can see what you’re good at, but it can challenge you in certain ways and get you out of your comfort zone,” Doyon said.

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Lia Emry, Staff Writer
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 12 Years on staff: 3 What is your favorite piece of literature? I'm not sure, but I love cats. Who is your hero? My mom. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Sushi.
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