YARMOUTH — When 145 eighth-graders spend two hours teaching and playing with 50 children with special needs, it’s hard to say who gets more out of the experience.

Many of the Frank Harrison Middle School students argued that May 15’s Special Olympics event had a more profound effect on them.

“Seeing their smiling faces feels so good,” eighth-grader Sophie Belisle said. “It’s like, wow, I did that.”

The third annual event, which is hosted by the entire eighth-grade, drew kids from towns and cities around the state. They spent two hours doing various sporting and physical activities to help them acquire new skills.

“They’re having so much fun, so hopefully they won’t even know they’re learning,” Lisa Bird, Special Olympics Maine‘s director of public relations and youth initiatives, said.

The event was for children ages 2 to 10, which is younger than most Special Olympics events. Meredith Hawkins, a Yarmouth High School junior who helped start the event a few years ago, said it’s important for younger kids to participate with the organization.

“This is a great introduction to Special Olympics,” Hawkins said. “It gives them confidence. Being with the eighth-grade kids gives them someone to look up to.”

The eighth-grade students said they liked being role models for the younger kids.

“I love the kids,” Emily Glass said. “I love how they look up to you to help them.”

Hawkins said the event is great because it teaches the eighth-graders about giving back.

“This is a great way for them to get involved with this organization that touches so many lives, and realize they can make a difference, too,” she said.

One student said she thinks the experience taught some of her classmates about the importance of caring for others.

“I see people that aren’t always the nicest, but this brings out the best in them,” Aisling Kenny said.

Belisle said she liked teaching the younger children new skills.

“I really like sports, so trying to nurture new athletes is really fun,” she said.

Student Elias Rich also said he enjoyed working with the kids.

“It think it’s really great that we’re giving the kids time to have fun this,” he said. “They all seem to enjoy it.”

Clemetine Balschke agreed.

“It’s fun meeting a lot of little kids and doing what they like,” she said.

Some students said they think they had as much fun as the kids.

“This is so much more fun than I imagined,” Jack Jones said. “I expected a good time coming in, but this completely exceeded my expectations.”

Bird said she was very happy with the event, as were all of the kids involved, and that she plans to have Special Olympics Maine come back year after year.

“We plan to do this forever,” Bird said. “The school wants us to be a tradition.”

Hawkins, who started the event as a middle school project, said she’s pleased with the way it’s grown. She said that although she’ll be graduating in a year, she has high hopes for the event’s continued success.

“I hope this continues on after I graduate,” she said. “That’s the goal, to keep this going in our community.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

Eighth-grader Scarlett McLaughlin helps Falmouth resident Brooke Buxton, 6, across a balance beam at May 15’s Special Olympics event at Frank Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth.

At the May 15 Special Olympics event in Yarmouth, kids were able to work on soccer, baseball, and jumping skills, as well as play with large rainbow-colored parachutes.

Six-year-old Levi Valliencort, of Sacopee Valley, pratices his tee-ball skills with the help of a few eighth-grade students in Yarmouth.

Trista Pickrell, 10, has her face and hands painted by Yarmouth eighth-grader Sophie Belisle.

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