For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Atlanta Public Schools held their annual Special Olympics at Lakewood Stadium.

Atlanta Public Schools (APS) first began holding the Special Olympics in 1981 as a way to engage and connect special education students from across the district.

The competitions ranged from the 50-meter dash to wheelchair races and more.

Joretta Kelly, a health and swimming teacher at King Middle School, ran the softball-throw contest. 

During previous softball-throw events, students ordinarily had three opportunities to throw the ball as far as they can and then get ranked based on distance and grade level, but Kelly said she wouldn’t be keeping score this time around.

“This year, because we haven’t been here in a couple years, we just want the kids to come out and enjoy being able to come together and fellowship like this,” said Kelly.

Over 300 students from 45 schools gathered at Lakewood Stadium to participate in the friendly competition.

“This is a culminating activity for them,” said Dr. Shai Menina, a speech language pathologist at Frederick Douglass High School. “They’ve been training for this moment.”

Menina said she was excited to be there to cheer on her students as they put into practice some of what they have learned this school year.

As a speech language pathologist, Menina told The Atlanta Voice she works to incorporate vocabulary into her curriculum that matches what her students are learning in their adaptive physical education classes.

“They can carry over those vocabulary skills with their family and friends,” she said.

Charlotte Sanford and Veronica Kirk are both special education teachers at Hollis Innovation Academy. Kirk spoke about how whole body movement and rhythm helps with learning for some of her students; for others, the event was an opportunity for them to connect with other kids and the APS community.

Sanford and Kirk, who are the lead special education teachers for middle and elementary school respectively, said they always love the APS Special Olympics because it is an opportunity to see their students that have moved on to high school.

This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Atlanta Voice through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.

Madeline Thigpen is an education reporter and Report for America Corps Member. She joined the Atlanta Voice in 2021. At the Voice she covers K-12 education for the Atlanta metro region and higher education....