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Students Participate in Special Olympics Soccer Program

Eight-Week Experience Teaches Both Soccer and Inclusion

The first day of practice is exciting for any sports player. There’s the fun of meeting new friends and the thrill of learning new skills. For students in the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) Young Adult Program at Sacramento State, opening day was also an opportunity to teach others about the importance of inclusion.

Six SCOE Young Adult Program students joined other local special education students yesterday to meet Sac State staff and volunteers. The group will coach the students during an eight-week Special Olympics Unified Soccer program at the Sacramento State University campus.

The soccer novices spent most of the day exercising, learning drills, and practicing basic soccer skills. SCOE special education teacher Shawn O’Briant said that, while students were learning about soccer, they were also teaching their volunteer coaches about inclusion.

“It begins with an understanding that our students are everyday people with different life challenges,” O’Briant said.

Unified Soccer provides Sacramento State students the opportunity to work with Young Adult Program students, giving them the opportunity to put their facilitation skills to use in creating an enjoyable athletic experience. The Sac State students either work for the university’s All-In-Recreation (AIR) program or serve as program volunteers.

Makalah Alexander, a recreational therapy major and an AIR staff member, said the program is helping her connect with peers and students with special needs. “I’m happy....I feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives,” Alexander said.

“It helps me just feel better about what I’m doing because I know that they’re enjoying it, seeing the smiles on their faces,” said student volunteer Tiana Ojeda. “It’s just really rewarding to me.”

The Young Adult Program teaches independent living skills, including vocational skills, to students, ages 18–22, who receive special education services. The Special Olympics Unified Soccer season runs through mid-November.