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    Posted October 2, 2015 by
    Peyton, Colorado
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    Students With Special Needs Find Friendships In Cheer Squad


    As a cheer squad sprinted into a school assembly Oct. 2 in Colorado Springs, three bleachers erupted in celebration. For 10th-grader Devon Beckmann and 12th-grader Ashlynn Lahoe, the excitement, the inclusion, was like nothing they’d experienced.


    “Imagine all the experiences we all had in high school, and what you’d be without that,” said Adelaida Manore, holding her 3-year old son, among the roar of hundreds of students and teachers attending the homecoming event at Sand Creek High School in District 49.


    Manore, mother of Ashlynn, 19, a student identified with autism and cognitive delays, says it’s perhaps too easy for parents and educators to overprotect students with special needs. With the hopes of providing positive social activities, people can get too cautious.


    “I knew this would be a safe environment; she’s surrounded and well supported,” said Manore, watching her daughter perform in the school’s gymnasium.


    Students were clapping, chanting, cheering. It was a homecoming assembly full of teen spirit, school colors, high-fives, souvenirs, candy and jokes, as athletic and academic clubs took center stage to highlight accomplishments and competitions.


    For Ashlynn, who wanted to be a cheerleader since starting high school, it was a chance to show her excitement for the school she’d soon graduate from.


    “I can jump all the way up to the sky and back down,” said Ashlynn. “Some people don’t know how important our school is.”


    “When I saw Ashlynn dancing, doing normal senior things, it just broke my heart,” said Manore. “If we could just have more of these moments.”


    A Friend’s Invitation


    “If I didn’t have cheer, I’d be a complete outsider,” said 10th-grader Chassidy Gray, whose Army family moved in 2012 with orders to Fort Carson. “It gives me 25 new friends each year.”


    Chassidy, 15, has practiced cheers since she was 4 years old. This semester, the cheerleader is assisting students with special needs twice a week during a functional life skills class. As a student aide, she told the teacher about her inclusion idea for the homecoming assembly.


    “I think special education students tend to get grouped off,” said Chassidy. “I feel like they should be able to — or comfortable with — walking up to anyone and not feeling scared. I think everyone should be able to do what they want to do.”


    Devon, 15, is also with cognitive delays, along with various neurological issues.


    “Devon told me she feels like she doesn’t have a lot of friends because of her condition,” said Chassidy. “I was raised with a mentality that nobody is different, that everyone should be treated the same. I felt like they could be just another friend on our team.”


    Chassidy invited Devon and Ashlynn to join the cheer squad at Sand Creek High School.


    They accepted her invitation. While practicing in a hallway, Chassidy was surprised by how quickly they learned the moves. The team collectively demonstrated their excitement with performances outside, as Devon and Ashlynn’s parents arrived to take them home.


    “When Devon got the uniform, I didn’t think I’d ever get it off her,” said mother Jane Beckmann, affirming the squad’s “overwhelming” acceptance.


    “Devon has special needs, she understands that, but she still wants to do normal things,” said Beckmann. “Even with the wheelchairs and aides, and all that stuff, they’re still just teenagers. They want to see a movie, go to a football game, they want to be part of it all.”


    To sustain confidence during the assembly, two of the cheerleaders offered continued guidance from the sideline. Chassidy says they “knew the school’s reaction would be great,” but they weren’t sure how Devon and Ashlynn would react with only one day of team practice.


    “I could see the happiness in her eyes,” said Beckmann of the performance. “They’re being normal teenagers — they’re dressing up, putting on makeup, all that stuff.”


    “A lot of us get nervous before a routine, but they just seemed really comfortable on the mat, in front of a ton of people,” said Chassidy, as the homecoming assembly was dismissed. “They were smiling the whole time. We were just so proud of them.”


    “Today they’ve made 25 new friends. They’re one of us.”

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