Track and field event to promote inclusiveness for Virginia Beach elementary students with disabilities

Elementary school kids have participated in Little Feet Meets across the state of Virginia for nearly a decade. (Photo courtesy of Special Olympics Virginia)
Elementary school kids have participated in Little Feet Meets across the state of Virginia for nearly a decade. (Photo courtesy of Special Olympics Virginia)

VIRGINIA BEACH — A track and field event aimed at promoting inclusiveness, collaboration, and sensitivity to those with disabilities is coming to Virginia Beach City Public Schools for the first time this spring.

The Little Feet Meet, an athletic event for elementary school kids with developmental disabilities, will be hosted in partnership with Special Olympics Virginia on April 18 from 10 a.m. to noon Landstown High School.

According to Veleka Gatling, executive director for the Office of Programs for Exceptional Children, roughly 250 students with disabilities are expected to take part, each with a supportive and encouraging peer partner.

“The students will work with general education students that do not have a disability,” she said. “An event like this builds an awareness that students in wheelchairs or students with cognitive abilities can do more than most people think.”

The peer partners are hand-picked to team up with a handicapped student by school administration members from 14 Virginia Beach elementary schools, Gatling said.

The pairs will train for the upcoming athletic events together during physical education classes.

The meet is still weeks away, but the program will officially kick off on Feb. 23, when students begin training for events like the long jump, softball throw, and 50-yard-dash.

Training equipment will be provided to each school to facilitate the eight-week practice period, Special Olympics Virginia representative Debbie Apperson said.

“We hope to build genuine relationships between students through the vehicle of sports,” she said. “These are children that will one day become adults, and we want them to appreciate the things that special needs individuals can bring to the community as neighbors, employees, and friends.”

Students enrolled in elective classes like Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow will provide assistance and encouragement to participants at the final event in April.

The Little Feet Meet is new to Virginia Beach, but many schools across Hampton Roads, particularly those in Suffolk and Norfolk, consider the event an annual tradition.

In Norfolk, Old Dominion University has hosted the track and field event on the Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium since 2012.

Find out more about the Little Feet Meet at www.specialolympicsva.org.

Pohl may be reached at mariah@localvoicemedia.com

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