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Missoula's Hellgate Elementary takes steps toward inclusion with new challenge

Posted at 3:54 PM, Mar 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-14 18:21:23-04

MISSOULA - Hellgate Elementary School is tracking its steps towards inclusion and community with its new Stride Challenge.

For the challenge, students will track their step count every day at school to work towards a mileage goal.

The initiative is part of Special Olympics Montana and its Unified Champion School Campaign.

Unified Champion Schools are all over the state of Montana, but Special Olympics has taken this school year to focus on the Missoula area.

A Unified Champion School agrees to promote inclusion through three components: inclusive youth leadership, whole-school involvement and unified sports.

“So the Stride Challenge is great because it incorporates all three,” said Unified Champion Schools Sports coordinator Maddie Marcellino. “So, whole-school engagement– everyone's doing it. Inclusive leadership is just getting students in the playground you know, planning these types of things, and unified sports also includes unified fitness. So moving together. It kind of ticks off all three boxes”

The students use handheld pedometers to track their steps.

The younger kids use it only at recess, whereas the older kids carry it with them all day.

The challenge has brought the school together towards a common goal, according to Hellgate Elementary fifth grade teacher, Sarah Schuelke.

“It just is creating an opportunity for kids to connect in a simple way but that just adds to that whole piece of including everyone and making sure that everyone is valued and part of the group,” Schuelke said.

The challenge includes children of all physical and mental abilities.

“All abilities are accepted and important, and everyone has something to add to our classroom community,” Schuelke said.

For the students, it has been rewarding to see their peers all participate in the same activity.

“You get to do it with your friends, and you can start new friendships,” Hellgate Elementary student Lauren said. “Because some people you don't even know, they like doing it. So you're like, oh, this could be good.”

“I like how everyone's doing it,” said Declan who is a sixth grate student at Hellgate. “So everyone wants to get to the goal. So everyone works together, kind of.”

The students find the progress rewarding.

“If I see that I have a lot of steps that day, I'm proud of it because I feel like I actually did something today,” Declan said.

At the end of the challenge, there will be an award ceremony.

The student, classroom and grade with the most amount of steps will win a prize, either extra recess or a pizza party.

The Unified Champion program will also gift each student Stride Challenge bags and bracelets.

Additional information about the program through the Special Olympics can be found here.

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