Amy Watson was in her P.E. class at Beckman High School when she took notice of the ratio of her fellow general education students to special education peers.
She also saw the interaction between them, and the desire for acknowledgment her classmates with intellectual disabilities craved. This was the moment Amy knew she wanted to make a difference and “break down that awkward barrier” that sometimes divides the two groups of students.
“I just saw they wanted the same high school experience that the general ed students were getting,” Amy said.
That’s when she got the idea for the socially inclusive club, “Colors,” which Amy started last year as a sophomore. With nearly 90 students, including about 25 with intellectual disabilities, the club does various activities including bowling and movie nights, visits to amusement parks, and trips to the nearby park.
The feedback from her classmates has been eye-opening and positive. The consensus: “People with intellectual disabilities are just like us.”
“I have a lot of my friends come up and say, ‘I’ve never been able to open up my heart in this way,’” Amy said.
“If you just feel isolated – you could have special needs or don’t have a lot of friends and just want to hang out – then you can come and join the club. We’re focused on inclusion.”
The next set of goals are to raise money for an awards banquet, bring Unified Sports to the campus and continue the momentum. Unified Sports is a growing aspect of Special Olympics, particularly in schools.
Amy’s own connection to Special Olympics is through her father, Sgt. Ryan Watson of the Long Beach Police Department. Since 2009, Sgt. Watson has been involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Southern California.
The influence is evident.
“I think that was a natural progression for her to want to start an inclusion club,” Sgt. Watson said. “I hope she continues on with it, and she definitely has a drive for it. Her heart is a part of it. It’s not just her checking a box to fulfill a requirement for a college application. She’s taken the next steps to try to institutionalize and get the message out.”