By Amy Reynolds, Communications SpecialistThis article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin
When Middle School teacher and running coach Annie Zeberkiewicz crossed the finish line at the first Fusion Inclusion 5K in April, Kristina Robinette, whom Zeberkiewicz pushed in a fully adaptive chair, couldn’t stop cheering and smiling.
It was the perfect ending to the yearlong disABILITIES Awareness Program, which creates opportunities for seventh-graders and faculty to make connections with children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities.
“It was a great way to kind of wrap up the program and everything that we’ve worked hard for,” she said. “It was the icing on the cake to see Kristina get so excited. She kept high-fiving everyone. It was awesome.”
The disABILITIES Program is a hallmark of character education in the Middle School.
“It’s basically an opportunity to educate the kids that everybody is just like us,” said Zeberkiewicz, who coordinated the program and also coached cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. “So although there might be some differences, everyone deserves kindness and to be treated like a human—and they still offer wonderful things to the world.”
To kick off the program, Fusion Inclusion founder Steve Sinko came to speak to the seventh-graders about the nonprofit’s mission of making it possible for people with physical and cognitive challenges to participate in local races by giving them access to adaptive running chairs.
The plan, Zeberkiewicz said, was for Sinko to simply educate the kids on his program, but the kids had a different idea. They were so inspired by his message of inclusion that they decided to raise money for their own Tower Hill fully adaptive chair.
The students held a Run-A-Thon in the fall to raise more than $5,500 for the equipment, which Zeberkiewicz ended up using at the Fusion Inclusion 5K, specially made.
Because of liability reasons, most races don’t allow adaptive chairs. So at Fusion Inclusion’s inaugural 5K, the chairs were the primary focus, starting five minutes before everyone else and having the right-of-way throughout the course.
“Without this race, Kristina wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” Zeberkiewicz said. “She does regular runs, but to actually be involved in a huge race like that—that’s unique about this race.”
As a part of the disABILITIES Awareness program, seventh-graders at Tower Hill participate in social activities with students from H.B. du Pont Middle School’s special education program. Zeberkiewicz said it’s a good way for students to see that special-needs kids can have a wide range of disabilities, and that no matter what someone’s disability is, it’s never a reason to not be kind.
“They learn to treat those who are different—or those who are the same—the same way you want to be treated,” Zeberkiewicz said. “Don’t just ignore them because you think you have zero in common with them. You probably do have something in common with them.”
Marissa Washburn ‘22 attended the Fusion Inclusion 5K and was able to see first-hand the impact she and the other seventh-graders made.
“Marissa saw how excited Kristina was,” Zeberkiewicz said. “She got a picture and we introduced her to Kristina, and I think it kind of came together and she was able to see, ‘Wow, we did this.’”