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MHS students create project to raise awareness, support those with intellectual disabilities

Four Mitchell High School students are shedding light on people with intellectual disabilities -- and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Brittany Robinson, Kaylie Zens, Bridget Thill and Jayci Hinker have created a project to bring aw...

General education and special education students play the Sorry board game during a gameday at the Mitchell High School. The gameday is put on by a group of four high school girls who want to bring awareness to students with intellectual disabilities. (Submitted photo)
General education and special education students play the Sorry board game during a gameday at the Mitchell High School. The gameday is put on by a group of four high school girls who want to bring awareness to students with intellectual disabilities. (Submitted photo)

Four Mitchell High School students are shedding light on people with intellectual disabilities - and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

Brittany Robinson, Kaylie Zens, Bridget Thill and Jayci Hinker have created a project to bring awareness to students with disabilities.

The project is through HOSA - Health Occupations Students of America - and began when Hinker, a senior, was approached at the beginning of the school year by the special education department. She was asked to help with a grant project that included a collaborative team day intermixing general education and special education students. Since she's involved with HOSA, Hinker decided to look for some teammates to help her out, gaining juniors Robinson and Zens and sophomore Thill to help.

The project took off from there.

"We want people to know that people who do have an intellectual disability should be seen for their abilities and not their disability," Hinker said. "They are still people and they're just like us."

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The goal, the students said, is to spread awareness of those with disabilities. They did this by hanging banners outside the school office and hosting game days every other Friday for 90 minutes. The events have been so successful, students - both general and special education - are asking for more.

The game days are simple, allowing for the students to play board games, legos and socialize. The girls bring in different athletic teams, student organization groups and classes to be a part of the game days, and each one is proven a success.

"I know the special education students enjoy it, but when we walk in the smiles on their faces, you can't explain it," Robinson said. "They enjoy it, we enjoy it. We can see we're making them happy."

Part of the project also includes a campaign called "Spread the Word to End the Word," which supports the elimination of the derogatory use of the "r-word" and promotes the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. The campaign asks people to take a pledge, and so far more than 400 students and teachers have taken the pledge at the high school, the girls said, which they find amazing.

"I think it's opened eyes and a lot of the students are more accepting and they really enjoy coming down and playing with students," Zens said. "Everyone includes them. It's good for the students and the teachers to do this."

The team of four plans to share their project in presentation form at the state HOSA competition on April 6 and 7 in Sioux Falls. And their goal, and hope, is to win and move on to the national competition.

Throughout the project, the most surprising aspect to the group has been the immense support by the entire school. The girls plan to participate in the upcoming Polar Plunge, which is a fundraiser for the South Dakota Special Olympics. They raised more than $1,000 to donate.

"Everyone is so willing and open to the idea," Zens said. "Nobody has shut us down or anything."

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Hinker is especially proud to see how much the project has grown. And as the lone senior of the group, she plans to use the experience in her post-graduation plans to go into nursing.

But the project is not just for experience or to gain a ticket to nationals. The girls all have come out of this project with a well-rounded perspective, they said, and a lot of new friends.

"When we come in, kids from the special education department will say, 'Hi,' " Hinker said. "And it just really makes you smile."

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