By Linda Hill
Originally published in Pace Magazine Vol. 7 No. 2 Spring 2018.
The PTA at Washington Center School is preparing for its 12th annual 5K Run, Walk & Roll, a fundraiser for this Greenville County school. Washington Center is a separate school for students with severe and profound intellectual disabilities. Many students have additional needs resulting from orthopedic concerns, neurological impairments, hearing/ vision/communication deficits and genetic disorders. The school’s motto of “Those you think cannot … can!” embodies the spirit of the faculty and staff who strive tirelessly to provide experiences that will enrich the lives of students. Classrooms utilize multiple strategies to deliver an alternative academic curriculum that brings in standard classroom technology as well as numerous specialized devices. Students also receive instruction in art, music, library, adapted physical education, and adapted environmental science, which includes a greenhouse with birds and small animals.
The original Walk & Roll began as a fundraising opportunity that allowed the Washington Center community to come together to experience a family fun walk where children in wheelchairs are the norm, not the exception. Over the years, the race has grown in numbers and popularity as volunteer groups and business sponsors join hands with Washington Center. With a small but fierce PTA leading the way, this annual event now includes a USA Track & Field Certified 5K race. Beginning at the Furman University Amphitheater, runners, walkers, and those being rolled can appreciate the beautiful campus and enjoy the camaraderie of other participants as they wind alongside the lake.
In preparation for the race, Washington Center school conducts its own Spirit Week fundraiser during the week leading up to the 5K Run, Walk & Roll. Last spring, a food drive collected 1,108 food items for the Harvest Hope Food Pantry along with seven boxes of adult diapers. Following four days of fun-filled activities, the week culminated in a Spirit Day Walk where classes develop team names and walk/roll laps in the school gym during the day preceding the event at Furman. In this way, Washington Center can give something back to the community that supports it so well. With a healthy rivalry abounding, students and staff take pride in their accomplishments and enjoy bragging rights for the most laps completed.
Currently under construction, a Nature Trail is being developed behind the school, thanks in part to fundraisers such as the 5K Run, Walk & Roll. In the fall of 2016, the student body of Eastside High School Spirit Week raised over $100,000 toward the trail with additional donors also providing significant support. Funds in the range of $60,000 are still needed and the school continues to pursue grant opportunities. When the trail is completed, it will deliver an outdoor learning environment that is ADA compliant and provides age-appropriate activities for students ranging from three to twenty-one years old. Trees, plants, and flowers that provide sensory opportunities will be an integral component. Students at neighboring Sara Collins Elementary will be able to utilize the area, as will the community at large, after school hours.
The principal at Washington Center, Dr. Penny Rogers, encourages community involvement both on and off campus. Funds provided by Greenville County Schools allow middle and high school age students to leave campus for community-based instruction so that skills learned in the classroom can be practiced in a realworld context. Numerous volunteer and community groups frequently visit the school and are part of the fabric of this delightful place. Visitors leave with a keen awareness of the unique needs of these special students. Washington Center is a happy place and enjoys a long history of educating students with dignity, compassion, and high expectations.
The 2018 5K Run, Walk & Roll is set for April 28, beginning at the Furman Amphitheater at 9:00 a.m. Runners are encouraged to register through either Eventbrite.com or at Furman on the day of the race. There is also a Phantom Runner option for those who may wish to participate but are unable to attend. Attendees are guaranteed to come away with a heightened sense of well-being!