Evergreen ParkElementary School District 124


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D124 Looks Back on First-Annual Special Olympics Event

Looking at the mission statement of most schools or school districts, you may notice that the word “all” or “every” is emphasized when talking about students. Every single student deserves the resources and support they need to be successful and at D124, there continues to be an ongoing focus on supporting all learning styles and ability levels to really prioritize individual student needs. 

On May 28, 2024 this mission of inclusion and celebration was seen in a wonderful way in Evergreen Park, with the culminating event of the Special Olympics, the first Young Athletes Level 2 event (ages 6-12) ever held in South Cook County, Illinois. The district decided to host the event as part of the work of the Student Support Services and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Departments with the goal of finding more opportunities for students with disabilities. 


The event was a huge success, with almost twice as many students participating than anticipated with volunteers from the community and the school district helping students along, donating resources, or being part of the day. The goal was to have about equal numbers of students with disabilities and those without to partner together and participate in different stations that they had trained for in the weeks leading up to the event. 


“Teachers and district employees volunteered their time to coach the athletes for eight weeks,” said DEI Coordinator Amanda Hattar. “During practice, athletes were able to play and compete with one another helping them build friendships with their peers.”

Originally planned to be held at Central Middle School, the decision was made to move to the Evergreen Park Community High School Sports Complex so there would be more space for athletes and families to gather and move around to the different stations. Volunteers from Evergreen Park High School NHS and others helped the event run smoothly and made everyone feel welcome and comfortable. 

A total of 51 student-athletes from all D124 schools participated, with each school getting an encouraging sendoff as they boarded the buses and headed to the event, including appearances from all four elementary school mascots. When they arrived, they were greeted by an amazing balloon decoration done by Bilingual Liaison Evelyn Lara and the opening ceremony began.

Evergreen Park native and member of the silver medal-winning 2022 Olympic Women’s Hockey Team Abbey Murphy opened the games and spent time during the event, cheering on athletes, spending time with families, and taking pictures. With only two hours for the full event, organization and planning were key, and the hard work paid off. 

“We had the opening ceremony and torch run with Officer Wright and other police officers, complete with an awesome balloon torch and then launched into the events,” said Director of Student Support Services Rebecca Tyrrell. “Athletes had five minutes at each station and then we did a big closing ceremony with ribbons and certificates. It went really smoothly and it was so amazing to see everyone come together for our students!”

The event was only open to the families of competing athletes, but it was a great day of celebrating students of all abilities and friendly competition. Community partners included local banks, fire and police departments, and representatives from the Special Olympics who were also in attendance and said they were amazed by how well-organized the day was.

“We wanted to start small,” said Tyrrell. “We chose to host a level two event since more of our students could participate and we are already thinking about what we can do for next year!”

For participating students, it was a great chance to get to know other students, learn new skills, and have some fun, and for staff and parents, it was a wonderful opportunity to cheer on students and build a strong sense of community. 

“At Evergreen, we want to be proactive about bringing inclusive events and celebrations to our district. Our students, whether with disabilities or not, deserve an equitable opportunity at events and celebrations,” said Hattar. “It’s all about bridging the gap between students with or without disabilities in a fun and inclusive way!”