It’s easy to take for granted, but sometimes the smallest events and activities can pay dividends towards the development of a child, and specifically one with special needs. The Challenger League basketball event, held on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at Salk Middle School and featuring students from Salk and MacArthur High School, may have seemed small on the surface, but it meant something much larger to all involved, explains Dr. Donald Sturz.
“On the face of it, you see that they’re participating in a sport, so you think of the physical aspect,” said Sturz, who is the assistant superintendent for pupil services in the Levittown School District. “But I think what’s really valuable about it is the social-emotional piece. It helps these kids to develop their social skills, to be able to interact with others and work as a team.”
According to Jeff Aiello, who acts as the league’s coordinator at Salk and MacArthur, the Levittown School District has been a participant for the past five years. The event, which features high school student-athletes playing basketball alongside middle school students with special needs, was noted by Aiello as something that has a far reaching impact within the community.
“It means so much [to us],” Aiello said. “It pulls the Levittown community together in a way that is not done otherwise. The team, event and league teaches so many valuable lessons to not only the children in the school but to the parents, teachers and community members.”
Aiello also points out that, while the basketball game serves mainly to help the development of kids with special needs through peer-interaction, the student-athletes who assist in the event can benefit just as much.
“Most importantly it teaches them compassion,” Aiello said. “It also teaches them that all students should have the same opportunity no matter what the circumstances are.”
“It’s much broader than [a basketball game],” added Sturz. “You see all of the supports that are out there with our kids; those are all students. They’re peer-buddies. It really creates an inclusive activity.”
Both Aiello and Sturz expressed optimism regarding the availability of activities for local students with special needs, with both opining that the Levittown district is a leader in that regard. However, Aiello also noted that there is always room for improvement and that he would like to see even more programs.
“I feel that there are many opportunities for students with special needs,” Aiello said. “However, there can always be more, especially inside of the school districts. Levittown has always been in the forefront when it comes to providing opportunities for children with special needs.”
“I would say that it’s something that’s on the rise,” Sturz said. “You’re seeing more and more of these types of events being offered. Levittown’s very lucky. We tend to be trendsetters in this realm.”
In addition to crediting Salk Principal John Zampaglione and assistant principal Patrick Mulligan for the program’s success, Aiello praised the coaches, assistants and participants in the league for their contributions.
“They are the soldiers,” Aiello said. “Without them, the league would be a shell of itself.”