Kathleen Dent, a life skills teacher at William Allen High School, always loved the smiles on the faces of her students during the annual local Special Olympics days.
But COVID-19 put an end to that in 2020, and again last year, and even this year.
Hoping to see those joyful faces one more time before she retires, Dent and the Low Incidence Special Education team at William Allen have teamed up with St. Luke’s University Health Network to stage the first-ever Canary Nation Games on Thursday, May 26 at J. Birney Crum Stadium, modeled after the events the boys and girls took part in during the Special Olympics event.
Allen High’s Best Buddies Club will escort the life skills students and cheer them on during the day’s events which include an Opening Ceremony, athlete parade of athletes, torch arrival, track and field competitions, carnival games and so much more, including treats from the Kona Ice truck.
“St. Luke’s is providing us with the funding through their community foundation program to make all this possible,” said Dent. “The PTA has helped, we made some money from brownie sales that helped, and the Allentown School District Foundation has provided funds as well, so we are super excited about the day.”
The Canary Nation Games have a real school spirit with the high school chorale and the pep band performing. And there will be T-shirts for the participants.
Dent was also able to enlist the aid of Amy Cotter, the St. Luke's Sports Medicine Coordinator with Allentown School District who uses William Allen as her home base. Cotter arranged for St. Luke’s Sports Medicine Athletic Trainers to volunteer their time to help at the event.
Cotter even went above and beyond that. She secured sundry items and cinch bags so that every participant will receive something to commemorate the day’s events.
“Having Amy as a resource was encouraging,” Dent said. “We bounced ideas off each other. She's been at Allen so long that she knows who to talk to and where thighs are to get things accomplished. Aside from being a great person, she was a great sounding board for everything that will take place.”
“We’re excited because this is something outside our normal day-to-day,” Cotter said. “For us to be part of this group and this event, it opened up an opportunity to work with a different student group who are a part of the active population we serve.”
Because this was a start-up event from scratch, volunteers were hard to come by. Normally teachers take time to work the events, with substitute teachers filling the regular teacher roles back at school. But there is a teacher shortage right now, and a substitute teacher shortage as well, so they had to look elsewhere for volunteers, and Cotter helped with that.
“As Athletic Trainers, we work with the varsity athletes in various sports, and to witness them be part of the Best Buddies program and be with these life skills students is exciting for us,” Cotter said. “The Canary Nation Games gets the life skills and special education students involved with the general student population, and that’s a great thing. We are so happy to be a part of this great event.”