April 26, 2012 | Updated: January 29, 2019

By Kristi Newton

What happens when kiddos with and without intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to spend time together in a safe, supported environment revolving around play and sports?

Friendship, acceptance, respect, learning, compassion and FUN! Clack Middle School in Abilene jumped in on the Project UNIFY – Meet in the Middle Program – this year and have been amazed at the response from our student body.

As a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, this initiative comes from the Special Olympics organization to promote advocacy, inclusion, fitness and sports opportunities for all students.

More than 80 students are part of Meet in the Middle and meet regularly for what they have dubbed, “Lunch and Sports.” These students have also led school-wide initiatives to promote awareness and inclusion on our campus.

“Meet in the Middle has changed my perspective on intellectually challenged students and that they are not different from regular education students,” said 6th grader Arin Massey. “I am able to build a relationship with a student that I didn’t have one with - even though we attended the same elementary school. ”

“I like the fact that you get to know different people and how they react to you,” added Braydon Palacios-Camp, a 7th grader. “I think it’s fun for them to come out here and get to know us and learn what we are like.”

“Mr. Brown and students recited the pledge on ‘Spread the Word to End the Word Day.’ It’s fun to hang out with my friends,” 8th grader Nathan Delacruz.

”Meet in the Middle taught me that they enjoy sports and other activities too,” said Jacob Cotton, 8th grade. “Really they aren’t that different from the rest of us. I have made quite a few friends; they are always wanting to know how my day has been going and just what’s been going on. We high-five and handshake a lot too. It is a joy because we are always laughing, but still learning as well.”

Added 7th grader Mitchell Duquette: “Meet in the Middle is a great way to connect. We are all the same, just wanting to connect with others. I am one of them. I participated because I love talking, helping and making new friends. Being friends with them is like starting a new life, understanding that there is no difference and just to be able to express yourself the way you are. I really like just knowing who they really are and just being friends.”

We, as educators, realize the value of our unique position to influence the attitudes and behaviors of the students in our charge. It has been our pleasure to facilitate this program and its initiatives. We are excited and encouraged to see our student leaders and participants grow in character development, moral intelligence, leadership and fitness. We appreciate the positive impact they have on our school culture. Thanks, Clack Cardinals, for showing us how to “Meet in the Middle.” Please continue to change attitudes, perceptions and our world!

Kristi Newton is a the Meet in the Middle facilitator at Clack Middle School. Clack is in its first year as a MiM school. She is also participating in the UMass Project UNIFY research project.