Special Olympics, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program are long-standing Upper School traditions that set our school apart. As an IB student, senior Avery Lynch reflects regularly for the CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) component of the program, which challenges students to consider what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown as an individual through their extracurricular experiences. We are grateful to Avery for sharing excerpts from her CAS portfolio that demonstrate how impactful Special Olympics and BBBS are for our students.
I have always loved little kids and have been anxiously awaiting the time when I would be eligible to participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program through Rama Road Elementary. In October, Ms. Ellis, the leader of the Bigs program, told me she felt I was the perfect match for a first-grader named George, who had some special circumstances. George has Down Syndrome and communicates in his very own dictionary of words, signals, and a lot of personality that takes a little extra work to keep up with. All this aside, George was eager to have a big brother or sister like the rest of his classmates, and I was thrilled to be paired with him.
At my first meeting with George on October 29, I was immediately discouraged. His skepticism was apparent through the glaring look he gave behind his rimmed glasses, followed immediately by the silent treatment despite my best efforts to open him up. Ms. Loden, an assistant to the Bigs program, assured me it takes him a while to warm up to strangers, but as soon as he decided I was worthwhile everything would go smoothly. Extensive convincing and a Halloween candy bribe compelled George to follow me to what I told him was a “secret hideout,” where all the books and board games for the Bigs program are located. When we reached the staircase to walk to the game room, he stopped suddenly at the first step, and studied me and the obstacle that lay before us. After some serious internal deliberation, George reached his hand out to me expectantly, waiting for me to help him up the stairs. After we scaled the small flight, George decided, that for now, we could be friends, but only if I let him pick the game we played and assured him we didn’t have to read any boring books.
“I left feeling accomplished and fulfilled. I refused to give up on the start of our friendship; and, in the end, it seemed that he wasn’t ready to give up on me either.”
My second meeting with George was almost more nerve-racking than the first. I was worried that in the week that had passed he would have forgotten me, or worse, decided our friendship was a onetime thing. When I walked into the cafeteria and spotted George, he stood at his table and waved furiously, with the most precious and genuine smile that I’d ever seen. He directed me to sit next to him, and immediately handed me his utensils to cut up the remainder of his pizza. We spent most of our second meeting sitting at his lunch table, where the longer we sat the more I learned about George. After 15 minutes it was apparent that George had Rama Road wired. He was the big man on campus, and there was not one teacher or student who didn’t adore him; and he knew it. His confidence and humor shone as he waved at each of his fans and gave me a tour of the school. He eventually led me to one of their libraries where we took turns writing his name and practicing drawing smiley and frowny faces, which he insisted I act out every time. On the way back to his classroom, we held hands and jumped over every single crack in the vinyl flooring, which has become our new tradition. I dropped him back off with his teacher, fist-bumped him goodbye, and began walking out the door, when I heard George’s little feet run up behind me. By the time I turned around, he was halfway through the air, and jumped up to give me a huge hug.
“To say it made my day would be the understatement of the century.”
My first meeting with George following Christmas Break was both rewarding and devastating. When I walked into the cafeteria, I could immediately tell something was off. As is true for most first-graders, George had not yet mastered masking his emotions. When I sat in our usual spot and asked him what was wrong, he candidly responded with “mad.” Terrified, I asked if he was mad at me, or if other kids in his class had been mean to him, which he thankfully shook his head “no.” When I asked if perhaps he was mad at his family, he paused, and then changed his answer from “mad” to “sad.” I asked if something had happened with his parents or siblings over break, and he shook his head again, but said that he wanted to go home. I had been his age once and knew exactly what this meant. I asked him if he missed his parents and was sad to be back at school, and he finally shook his head “yes” but was clearly still devastated. I was proud of myself for knowing George well enough to notice this change in behavior and getting to the bottom of the issue but frustrated that there really was nothing I could do to make the situation better. I tried to assure him that he had made it through the hardest part of the day, his classes after lunch would fly by, and he would be home before he knew it. After cracking a few jokes and making a fool of myself in the cafeteria with my extensive repertoire of funny facial expressions and sound effects, he finally cracked a smile. We spent the rest of our lunch together mesmerized by the colorful spinner used in the game of Life, and playing the game with rules of George’s own invention, that always seemed to help him win.
Our last week at Bigs was incredibly eventful. Ms. Ellis organized a huge carnival with games, snacks, and books for each of the buddies to take home and read over the summer. When I walked into the cafeteria to pick George up that day, he immediately jumped up, grabbed my hand, and we walked/skipped to the outdoor area with the carnival games. George could barely contain his excitement as we waited for each activity. We found ourselves at the bubble table for at least 30 minutes; and each time we blew bubbles, it never lost its novelty. He gave me the biggest hug when I left, and my heart almost broke when I walked out of Rama Road, knowing I wouldn't be able to see George again until August. I hadn't realized just how much my relationship with him had affected me over these past few months, and I will miss seeing his smiling face every day.
Luckily for me though, Special Olympics was the following week, and I managed to convince my dean to let me loiter around the buses until Rama Road arrived so George could be my buddy. When he got off the bus and saw me, he jumped into my arms and gave me a kiss on the cheek. We spent the whole day making jewelry, winning prizes, and being “interviewed” on TV.
“It was so special to be able to introduce George to all the people in my life who had heard so much about him already.”