News 12 This Morning at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
GRANITEVILLE, S.C. -- Walk inside Ms. Katherine Thompson's classroom and you won't see students reading and writing quietly. Here, her special education students mix and mingle with students from other classes.
Deney Jackson, a senior at Midland Valley High School said, "The kids they really love us, as much as I love them and enjoy being with them."
Jackson didn't always feel that way.
"I was scared. I don't know why, it's like, they are not like me so I was scared of them, " Jackson explained.
Once she joined Project Unify, she started learning about the intellectual disabilities other students her age are facing.
"I think when you involve the two groups together, they realize that the students in special education are just like them. They just have different abilities," Thompson said.
Now the program is spreading to other schools in Aiken County through grant money from the Special Olympics and the U.S. Department of Education.
In class they foster friendships and tackle issues like bullying.
"Regular education students sometime have a perception about students in special education," Thompson said. "It's not that they are trying to be mean. There is a lot of ignorance about it."
Dean Braddy, another student participating in the program, says he's seen people pick on the special needs students.
"We play all the sports that regular education plays," said Dean Braddy, a student participating in the program. "They have feelings, they enjoy sports and like to have fun."
This semester, they're practicing for the big games against other schools participating in Project Unify.
"Our buddies that are in the classroom now have brought to light these other students to the regular education students," Thompson said.
But it isn't all fun and games -- communication can be a barrier sometimes.
"Marshall, he likes to talk to me," Jackson said. "So when I'm trying to help him, he'll be talking about a pen or something. Sometimes it's hard."
The program is helping students at Midland Valley create a better environment for their new friends. The program has also pushed the schools to create other initiatives like the Buddy Club and "End the R Word campaign" to cut down on name-calling.
The flag football competition being held this week will include all four schools receiving money for Project Unify. The schools include South Aiken High School, North Augusta High School and Silver Bluff. The competition will be held at Silver Bluff at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 8.