My little Hobbit attends preschool and the school he attends has a fund raiser every autumn, a Trike-A-Thon. It is some of the best entertainment I have ever watched, and I look forward to it every year. Parents, friends, family and neighbors sponsor the child and pay per lap or a flat donation, each child gets a t-shirt and the staff at the school does an incredible job of making this a memorable event. Time isn’t kept and lap counting is a pretty loose affair. No winners or losers in the classical sense. (Don’t get me started on participation ribbons and little league sports. These are preschoolers who are still learning to write their names legibly, there’s plenty of time for competition later.) This year’s Trike-A-Thon was just as great at the other two we have participated in, and all the donations usually go to paying for outdoor equipment for the school, and best of all, I do not have to sell any worthless crap (flowers, wrapping paper, preservative-laden cookie dough, etc.). All the money goes to the school without any middle man fundraiser getting a cut.
This preschool is pretty special in my opinion, it’s a joint operation, managed by the city and by the county. It is an Inclusion Program. For anyone who may not be familiar with that term, an Inclusion Program is where children with special needs and mainstream peers have classes together and aren’t segregated by ability. For instance, in the Hobbit’s class, there are a couple non-verbal children who use sign language. In the world of four year olds, knowing someone who talks with their hands is AWESOME. Inclusion benefits everyone. There are children with physical and developmental disabilities who play and learn and laugh along side their mainstream peers. They are all celebrated and cherished.
Back to the Trike-A-Thon. Each class has a 30-minute segment in the school day where they ride. Parents attend, the staff is so enthusiastic I feel exhausted on their behalf, some of the school district administration shows up and there’s usually a reporter and photographer from the newspaper present. This year, one of the teachers put together a play list and the kids entered into the sporting arena (aka, the playground) to the strains of Chariots of Fire. Everyone selects a trike or bike, they line up and then the kids ride and ride and ride as the adults cheer and take photos. The kids feel like superheroes and speed demons. When it’s all said and done they rehydrate with cold water and orange slices and pose for more pictures.
This year, one of the Hobbit’s classmates has had to miss a couple weeks of school which spanned before and after the Trike-A-Thon. It was questionable as to if this child was going to be able to attend the Trike-A-Thon this year, but just as the class had finished the photo op portion of the schedule and lined up to go back inside, the child in question arrived. (In case you’re wondering here why I’m not using names or pronouns, as a former public school employee who worked with children with disabilities, I know all too well that privacy laws are a Big Deal, and I do my best not to go throwing around information that isn’t mine to share.) This child arrived to cheers from teachers and peers alike. Hooray! So-in-so is here! To make sure the child participated with the class, a t-shirt quickly found and pulled over the kid’s head, the class was reassembled for photos so that everyone was in them, and then everyone was instructed to get back on their bikes and trikes and in wagons so that a couple more laps could be done and everyone got to participate. The late comer was hustled into a push car, put at the head of the starting line, and bam! they were off again, with the same amount of enthusiasm and cheering as before. The child felt a part of something special, the parent got to see their child valued by teachers and peers, and as an on looker, I was proud my kid was a part of that. It may be cliche, but the scene was heartwarming.
I know the news is filled with terror-inducing stories at the moment. We adults are angry and frightened and lashing out about it. It is exhausting. I get tired of hearing about it, and I bet everyone else does, too. But there is good news out there, too! It just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. If all the political rigamarole is getting you down today, if it feels like someone pissed in your Wheaties and the world is going to hell in a handbasket, keep in mind that for a short while, on a preschool playground, there was some good going on. People were kind. Children were celebrated for who they are, not what they can do, and for once, everybody won.