Students involved in the Special Education department at Bullard Independent School District, along with several Bullard High School student clubs and organizations, were treated recently to a day of fun and games, tied together with the spirit of togetherness, during the Panther Rec Day event, held Friday, May 4, inside the BHS gymnasium.
Despite spring weather conditions outside, which moved the event from Panther Stadium to the BHS gymnasium, BHS Special Education Specialist Stephen Monahan, the coordinator for the event, was able to quickly change the venue, allowing students have a fun-filled day of games and activities.
“It was an amazing opportunity to have a special day for our awesome students in the Bullard ISD Special Education department,” said Monahan. “The weather did play a factor in the day’s planning, but I honestly think it worked out better with us having the event indoors. As far as the fun factor goes, we were able to see the smiles on our students’ faces at an event that allowed them to let loose and be themselves. It was a different environment for them that day, but it was a day many of them won’t soon forget.”
Also involved in the event were several members of extracurricular teams and organizations at BHS, including members of the Panther athletic department, cheerleading squad, and award-winning Bullard Belles drill team, many of them wearing their team uniforms, allowing the students an opportunity to interact with some of their high school-aged role models.
“It was really great for these organizations to help out with events and play with students during Panther Rec Day,” said Monahan. “Some of these high school students serve as role models and mentors for students in our department. When student athletes wear their uniforms and you put them around other students, the uniforms seem to matter because they look up to them.”
During Panther Rec Day, high school students and special needs students alike enjoyed numerous athletic activities, such as a raising a giant parachute, shimmying in hula-hoops, kicking soccer balls, softball and beach ball toss, wooden egg race, bean bag toss, and races across the gym floor, among other events.
Also part of the event’s schedule, the students were treated to face painting fun, as well as snow cones and a lunch prepared by the BHS culinary arts department.
To close the event, high school students formed two lines leading up to a podium, allowing them to give out high-fives and receive a medal for their efforts during the event, as Monahan announced the names of each individual special needs student in attendance.
Monahan said with the help of other programs and organizations’ leadership and students, the event was even more special than he first imagined.
“There was so much willingness to participate from our extracurricular programs; all I had to do was ask, and Coach Callaway, Mrs. Johnston, and Mrs. Smith were all gracious and eager to volunteer to help,” said Monahan. “I’m grateful they were flexible, in terms of scheduling and relocating, as well as their desire to be invested in our students.”
In his second year at Bullard ISD during the 2017-2018, Monahan worked with approximately 80 students on the high school campus; however, the special needs department district-wide included close to 290 students last year, according to Bullard ISD Special Education Director Lisa Williams.
Along with Monahan, other teachers working with students in the Bullard ISD special education department include Stacey Odom, Cecilee Walker, Jessica Garen, Barbara Eubanks, Lawren Phillips, and Kristie Johnson.
Monahan said for the teachers, the best part of the Panther Rec Day event was seeing the smiles on the faces of the students as they enjoyed the day of fun prepared for them.
“We want these students to have fun, so seeing their smiles was definitely well worth it,” said Monahan. “The event really allowed our students to just be kids and have fun for a day. The most important thing to come out of an event like this is the camaraderie that is built between everyone who took part in the fun; there are a lot of relationships that are built at an event like this. On a day like these, there are no differences or disabilities between people; we’re all in it together as one family.”
When talking about the students who helped out with the event, Monahan said the event allowed them to interact in a hands-on fashion with special needs students, a group of students they may not usually connect with on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s good to allow these high school students that exposure time with students that have disabilities,” said Monahan. “People maybe don’t realize there are those with disabilities simply because they don’t have the experience around them. Unless you participate in an event like Panther Rec Day or Special Olympics, you can’t understand the joy these students possess. These kids need people to work with them because some of them will need assistance throughout their lives.”
Monahan had high praises for the efforts of the Bullard ISD special education department, saying the department ‘s staff put in the extra hours and care necessary to build relationships with their students.
“We’re not babysitters; we’re teachers and we’re teaching these students life skills they will need,” said Monahan. “I believe Bullard ISD does a great job with special needs students. We have a number of teachers who are very hands-on and active in the lives of their students. The teachers we have are kind, polite, and have the best interests of these students at heart – they’re willing to build relationships with their students. We have the right people in place and they do a great job of being advocates for these students.”
For his efforts during the Panther Rec Day event, Monahan received strong support from the program’s director, Williams, who gave credit for the success of the event to him.
“This was the first year we’ve hosted Panther Rec Day at our campus instead of being a part of the Cherokee County Co-Op,” said Williams. “Stephen did such a great job in planning the event, despite the weather conditions. He was able to coordinate with our extracurricular groups and revise some of his initial plans, all the while making the event a fun day for everyone. It was amazing to see these organizations all come together for the benefit of our special needs students. We hope to make this event an annual event, with continued collaboration from our student groups, as well as the Bullard community.”