FLUSHING TOWNSHIP (WJRT) (12/22/17) - A program at a Mid-Michigan school district is helping students see past stereotypes.
Through a grant from Michigan Special Olympics, kids at Flushing's Elms Elementary School are learning those with learning disabilities aren't that different from everyone else.
For the past five years, a number of students have been matched up to through the Unified Champions program.
"It's a merger between our special education population and our general education population," said John Hagens, Elms Elementary principal.
About 30 students take part each year.
"Basically, students bond. They form relationships. They eat lunch together. They go on field trips together," said Hagens.
Physical education teacher Todd Lindstrom brought the program to Elms.
"Really it's just building friendships and trying to look past differences and finding the sameness we can see in another," Lindstrom said.
The kids have a number of things they do together, like playing basketball.
"They're like cool kids and usually just underappreciated," said student Sammy LaPorta.
Sometimes it's just spending time together.
"We can get to know them better and make more friendships," said student Emersen Groulx.
"It's fun and I like doing this with my friends and stuff," said student Hayden Wheeler.
"You don't build friendships based on differences. You build friendship on things you find in common," said Lindstrom.
The program has been growing in popularity.
"The students really look forward to being selected to being a part of the Unified Champions," said Hagens.
Students and faculty wear wrist bands that remind them to be accepting, be a friend and be awesome.
"Once we understand them we find out they're really not that different," Hagens.
Flushing Middle School also has a Unified Champions program.