SALEMBURG — Inside the Lakewood High School gymnasium, hundreds of students stood up and together and made a promise to be winners.
“I promise to do my best and stay a Champion.”
Special needs students and Exceptional Children (EC) throughout Sampson County came together Friday for the Champions program, which celebrates success and provides learning opportunities. The idea started years ago through the Boy Scouts of America. After having success at the outset, educators decided to carry it on. Students from Clinton City School and Sampson County Schools participated.
Mary Ortiz, an educator from Lakewood, is one of many supporters who enjoyed the event. She believes the event gives them them a chance to socialize with peers from all over the district.
“It gives them opportunities that they may never have,” Ortiz said about the program and going on field trips.
Along with other organizers, Ortiz also applauded the efforts of Wendy Butler, who had a son in the program. Stephanie Woodcock, a special education teacher from Union High School, said the students learn a lot about communication.
“One of the big things that we work on is social skills,” Woodcock said. “I think these meetings give them the opportunity to mingle and interact with other children and adults.”
In addition to celebrating birthdays and learning fun facts about March, students also received a visit from local firefighters. The participating departments represented Salemburg, Roseboro and Autryville.
During a presentation, the students learned about important tips such as having an escape plan, making sure smoke alarms are working properly, staying low to floor during fires.
Jody Conrad, a member of the Autryville Fire Department, participated in a firefighter suite demonstration with Roby Owen of the Salemburg Fire Department. The purpose was to teach young children not to be afraid.
“With kids and younger people, you can show that this is a firefighter,” Conrad said. “He’s not going to hurt you. He’s here to help you.”
Conrad and fire officials believe the education may save lives in the future.
Following the presentation in the gymnasium, the students went outside and participated in several activities.The Sampson County Fireman’s Association provided a trailer to simulate a smoke-filled house. Conrad said the experience is different from what they see on television.
“It teaches how to stay low and how smoke can react,” Conrad said. “The biggest thing is closing doors. If you don’t shut doors, the fire is going to spread to where you’re at.”
Another big attraction was a visit from Sparky, courtesy of the Spring Lake Fire Department.
Angie Cimino-Locklear, a fire and life safety educator for Fayetteville Fire/Emergency Management, was also invited to attend. One of her goals is to work with Samson County and come up with ideas to teach special needs students about fire safety.
‘This is amazing what they’re doing here,” Cimino-Locklear said.
Lakewood teacher Mary Fisher said the program continues to grow each year. District areas in Sampson County host events throughout the year
“It’s wonderful for the kids,” she said. “The students have a chance to get out into the public and learn to associate with non-disabled children as well as disabled children.”
Another important aspect is gaining confidence through activities such as singingthe National Anthem or being on stage.
“Outside of what they do at school, most of them don’t get to do anything like this at home,” Fisher said. “Some have not been outside of Sampson County — for them this is a big deal. They get together with friends they haven’t seen and do things that they haven’t done before in the real world.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.