Being the first to try something new can be daunting. It can be nerve wracking, and many people might be skeptical of how successful you will be. Being the first to try something new can also be exciting—it can bring a community together and inspire others to join in the future.
North Reading High School was the first school in Massachusetts to sign on and participate in Special Olympics MA’s mobile plunge with Bear Force One—a fully equipped mobile plunge pool that can hold up to 2,800 gallons of water. More than 150 staff and students took the plunge on Friday, December 15th and proved what being a Unified Champion School means.
“This is a fun activity to do with everyone and raise money at the same time,” said North Reading Unified Partner, Ben Russel.
The idea of bringing a mobile plunge to schools was first brought up on a Youth Activation Council (YAC) webinar last year; and North Reading Special Education teacher Kelly Gilbert knew right away that the school should be involved.
“Not only is this a fun event, but it’s raising money for such a good cause and something that is near and dear to our heart as a Unified Champion School,” said Gilbert.
North Reading had an initial goal of raising $2,500. That goal was shattered in the first week of fundraising and ended up reaching more than $15,000 by plunge day. Through fundraising competitions among sports teams, to monetary goals needed for certain staff members to take the plunge, North Reading has fostered comradery and spread inclusion throughout the halls.
“Everyone is excited to try something different that they wouldn’t normally ever try,” said Gilbert. “Maybe some people didn’t know what Special Olympics was before this, but now it’s getting a lot of exposure and I’m sending links out to people to show them ‘hey check out all this programming, check out all of these cool things that your money is going to go toward.’”
The staff and students at North Reading High School not only decided to participate in this mobile plunge to benefit their own school community; but to inspire other schools to follow suit with the hope that even more students across the state can have access to Unified sports and inclusive programs.
“Special Olympics is all about spreading awareness and creating Unified programs,” said North Reading Unified Partner Erin Hatton. “A big part of this is that we want opportunities to be available for other schools that don’t have a strong Unified program right now because we’ve seen how much of an impact it can have on us and we want that for other schools too.”
With the sun shining on a brisk 40-degree day, the event began with songs played by North Reading’s marching band, some words from North Reading Principal Anthony Loprete, Special Olympics MA representatives and the National Anthem sung by Special Olympics athlete Lily Abenaim. There were awards handed out for best costume, top fundraising team, top fundraising individuals, and the golden plunger for the team who most embodied the mission of Special Olympics and the Polar Plunge—which was awarded to the girls’ volleyball team.
And to kickstart the actual Polar Plunge event, the first team to brave the icy-cold waters of Bear Force One was none other than the Unified Team.
“I think the more people that do it, the more awareness and more money we can raise,” said North Reading special education teacher and Unified coach Jonathan Hudson. “We’re the first school in Massachusetts to do it… hopefully it will help other schools see how awesome it was and what a success it was.”