Spencer Bode was knee-deep in it last week.
The freshman basketball player from the College of Mount St. Vincent was putting the final touches on his inaugural Teamwork Makes Dreams Work program at the college’s Peter Jay Sharp Gym and there was still lots to do. There were tables to set up, T-shirts to distribute and, most importantly, Bode’s guests of honor, area special needs kids, to greet and introduce to the day’s events.
Bode’s program is based on a concept known as Unified Sports, in which kids from mainstream schools are partnered with kids from special education programs on sports teams in order to bring the two groups together and forge ongoing friendships. It’s an idea Bode brought with him from his high school days in Rhode Island.
“The students from the special education department within a public school are teamed up with kids from the school,” Bode explained. “So there might be three kids on a team who are special education athletes and two are able-bodied athletes. Then this team would play other schools and over time it developed to where every high school where I’m from in Rhode Island would have one.
“Here in the city it’s growing a little bit, but the thing is here special education schools have their own schools,” he continued. “They’re not in the public schools because the class sizes are too big. So what we’re trying to do is bridge the gap between these segregated special education schools and a regular same-aged student.”
Bode started to put the program in motion in January with the hopes of eventually partnering with Special Olympics.
“This is my whole second semester project,” Bode said. “The thing is, we’re trying to make our program an official part of the Special Olympics. We’re trying to make Mount St. Vincent the Official Special Olympics College of the Bronx. That’s the goal.”
Bode said when the program launched in Rhode Island, progress was slow at first. But within a year or so, it became wildly popular throughout his town.