Too often we all find ourselves hearing stories about the education system falling short. But every once in a while a success story rises to the top.
On Tuesday at the Special Olympics at Saline High School, 13 kids from Terri Redding’s and Nicole Burnell’s resource rooms at Heritage Elementary School presented a $775.50 check to Jackie Flores, the co-director of Washtenaw County Special Olympics.
“They’d never seen a check that big before because everything is digitalized for them so they were like ‘wow we’re going to give them this big piece of paper,’” Burnell said.
The students were invited to the games on Tuesday because they chose to donate the proceeds from their Buttons for a Cause project to the Special Olympics.
“I loved it,” Redding said. “I was so proud of them that’s what they picked. It was even cooler when we reached out to the director of the Special Olympics and she invited us to the games at the high school.”
The money they donated came from the hard work of the students, but it couldn’t have happened without “Team McReddell” as they call themselves. Redding and Burnell collaborated with Heritage art teacher Kevin McCown to help students create buttons that they designed, drew and made.
“The kids went around the building and they picked a staff member who they wanted to interview,” Redding said. “Based on the answers to the questions, they created a unique button for that staff member.”
The kids in Redding’s and Burnell’s Resource Rooms are typically a few grades behind their peers. The project proved to be a great way to get the kids to break out of their shell.
“I think it’s awesome because these kids who typically would not be social in a group or would not talk to teachers they don’t know are out there and talking and meeting new people,” Redding said. “There is a student in Ms. Burnell’s room who has limited verbal skills and the button he did when I look at it I get choked up every time because it is absolutely amazing to me."
For the students, it took a lot of hours of hard work to get their buttons in their final form.
“We had to do a draft and we had one design and then we made the buttons with a button machine,” said Heritage student Matthew Kotus.
“I had to redo some buttons,” Heritage student Cooper Lechard said. “We decided it wasn’t good enough so I just remade it. Now it’s my best.”
In order to get the students some real world experience and to bring in the community, the three teachers also worked with Jen McPherson, owner of McPherson Local in Saline. McPherson sold the buttons at her store and also had some of the students come into her store where they sold the buttons themselves.
“I was totally on board with it right away and I thought the project was awesome, I thought the kids were awesome,” McPherson said.
McPherson sold the buttons for $1 and took none of the profits, which she said was an easy choice.
“I didn’t even have to think about it for a second,” McPherson said.
After the button project was finished, McPherson said she was left feeling proud to live in a community with such great educators.
“I can’t say enough good things about Terri and Kevin,” McPherson said. “They are just absolutely amazing teachers. I feel like those kids are really fortunate to have had both of them and to be involved in a project like this and we just feel honored that we were asked to be apart of it and that we get to come along for the ride because it is really cool to watch.”
After choosing to donate to the Humane Society last year, the students voted to donate to the Special Olympics this year without any direction, Redding said.
“It makes you get a lump in your throat and it’s very emotional,” Redding said.
McPherson said she was delighted with the reaction she saw from the community in her store.
“However they found out, they were so supportive,” McPherson said. “People would buy as many as they could and they would come in specifically for the buttons and then we would have a display on the counter so if they weren’t familiar with the project, a lot of times that display would catch their eye.”
The project was a lot of hard work for both the teachers and the kids, but seeing the final result at the Special Olympics was well worth it, Burnell said.
“This here, like the culminating activities, for them to see all the work they did and the conversation we had today where they were saying, ‘we gave up our recess, we gave up our Saturday’s’ and they didn’t mind and so this is so exciting to see it all come together for them,” Burnell said.
The kids said they were excited to be at the event, outside and away from school.
“We get to skip math class!” Heritage student Maren Robinson said.
“I’ve never really been to a Special Olympics game and I wanted to see what it would be like,” Heritage student Hayden Cole said.
“We’re helping people, so it feels good” Lechard said.
List of kids involved in the project:
Isaiah Rodriguez, Cooper Lechard, Jax Presley, Hayden Cole, Rebecca Roehm, CJ Webber, Michael Miller, Drew Lawrentz, Maren Robinson, Matthew Kotus, Dre'dan Dixson, Michael Louden, Orion Bonner