On the morning of April 21, a bus convoy carrying students from 14 Berkeley County schools entered the Moncks Corner Recreation Complex. Accompanied by a guard of honor and a torch lighting ceremony, the One Berkeley United event finally came to fruition.
One Berkeley United started as an idea that included about half a dozen schools. But as word spread, the grassroots effort flourished, fueled by things the pandemic has created a thirst for normalcy, community and inclusion for.
The event, held for students with disabilities in the Berkeley County School District, had to be pushed back a few weeks due to weather conditions. But on April 21, an abundance of outdoor activity unfolded under perfect skies and a subtle breeze, a fitting scene for a party to celebrate the kids who spread the most sunshine.
The site offered large open spaces for children. The day allowed them to be together in large fields filled with painted cubes, each offering a different activity, ranging from parachute and bowling exercises to small obstacle courses. Students who participated in the activities received medals at the end.
Megan Sanders, a Berkeley County parent with a child in the special needs program, said it was great to organize accessible activities for the kids.
“I think these kids make everyone happy and I think they deserve a spotlight and a day that completely includes things that are right for them,” Sanders said.
It was also a special moment for the school administrator who was the first to launch the project.
“It really gives chills to see the children arrive. It’s special,” said Natalie Lockliear, director of Fox Bank Elementary. “It was just a process until they started getting off those buses. That’s when it really got real.
The event took a lot of planning. The directors began meeting over One Berkeley United in July. Other school districts have held similar events for students in special education programs, and Berkeley County is now large enough to hold one.
“Today is an activity day for our students with special needs,” Lockliear said. “We have games planned and we have small groups, and it’s an opportunity for them to mingle with other kids in our district.”
Hundreds of students participated in the day, which required the combined planning efforts of the county, BCSD, the town of Moncks Corner and an army of volunteers.
“It started with about eight schools and it grew into all of that,” District Superintendent Deon Jackson said. “It was just a real grassroots organic effort as far as this program goes, and you look around and here we are. It’s fantastic.”
The event was what parents of special needs students in the district have been waiting for: a day to remind their children that they belong and matter.
“It really makes me feel good. A lot of kids don’t experience a lot of inclusion like this, so it’s good to bring them here and get the community involved,” Sanders said.
A total of 300 elementary students participated in One Berkeley United. And like the sun, it was time for them to shine in an event that organizers hope to continue into the future – a future they hope will include more unity among students.
The school district is holding a similar event for high schools and colleges. It will take place at Cane Bay High School on April 28.