Keri Drish, a math teacher at Robinson Middle School, and Christie Culbertson, a special education teacher at Dobyns-Bennett, joined forces to sponsor the cheer squad, which consists of students from D-B and Robinson. The squad consists of 18 students (girls and boys) - nine sparkle squad members and nine students from the BUDS (Buddies Understanding Different Students) program. BUDS is a reverse inclusion program that brings general study students into the classroom as a tutor and serves as a mentor program for both set of students.
"My goal was to not have a teacher or parent on the floor with the performing students and the BUDS students have made that possible," Culbertson said.
"I really enjoy cheering with the Sparkle Squad, because it’s such an amazing experience to see everyone working together as a team. It makes my day to see them smile and get excited about every performance," said Kendrick, a student in the BUDS program.
The team practices for an hour, once a week, and keeps a consistent routine during practice. They warm up, go over the chants (used to get the crowd involved in their performance) and then ease into the dance routine. A familiar song is used in their routine to get the entire audience moving with them. It is a win/win situation for all involved as Culbertson uses the opportunity to incorporate life skills from the curriculum into the experience.
The community assistance, inside and outside of the school system, has made a huge impact on everyone involved with the Sparkle Squad. Culbertson reflected on the numerous people who have supported them, from a teacher at D-B offering to embroider the uniforms for the team to Dr. Lyle Ailshie, superintendent of Kingsport City Schools, attending their first performance.
If you missed the chance to see the Sparkle Squad's three performances this year, don’t worry; they hope to continue cheering next year. Students have already asked Culbertson if the squad could cheer at various games next year, such as football and soccer games.
"I had a squad member come up and thank me for allowing her the opportunity to cheer, something she never thought would happen," Culbertson said. "Someone came up after the first game and said they didn’t see any disabilities, but the squads’ ability to perform. It's exciting to see my students sitting with their peers in the student section after the performance and being noticed when they walk down the hallway at school; not for their disability but for the content of their unique individual personalities. We are fortunate at DB that the barriers you often see constructed between students who are typically developing and those with disabilities have somewhat dissolved over the years with our inclusive programs. The BUDS program, along with the Sparkle Squad, are two examples of such programs."
Annie, a student in the BUDS program said, "It is amazing to be able to do an activity together and seeing them have fun doing something they have worked so hard for. Just being a part of something that we can all join in and do together is exciting!"
The Sparkle Squad and their sponsors thank the entire school and local community for the support they have extended to them. The parents have been very appreciative of the positive response and for the opportunity presented to their children. Not only do the "Sparkles" cheer on their school, but they also give the entire student body and community a reason to cheer on the fact that we are all similar in so many ways.
"Seeing the smiles on their faces while practicing and performing is one of the highlights of my week," Culbertson said.