Lutheran Ormeau Rivers District School (LORDS) has been running the Inclusive Sport Program since 2016.
‘The program came about as a student-led initiative’, says Laura Robbins, Pastoral Care Coordinator Years 7 to 12 at LORDS. ‘Our inaugural school captain, Alex Wells, loves sport and has always had a heart for others. Her family are very community-minded and heard about a soccer program for children with additional needs that took place in Brisbane. Alex did some research into this and had lengthy conversations with Principal Jodie Hoff. Jodie believes in student-led initiatives and that you are never too young or old to make a difference. Jodie made the decision that Alex could try starting a similar program at LORDS.’
The first season of LORDS’ Inclusive Sport Program took place in 2016 with approximately 30 participants and 20 volunteers. It was advertised as a sports program designed for all children, especially those with additional needs. ‘An amazing thing happened’, Laura says. ‘We had approximately 30 young people with additional needs – intellectual, physical, social and emotional – come to LORDS and sign up to be a part of the program. The students were from the wider community. Their parents had heard of the program and wanted to come and try it out. Their feedback was that not many programs such as this exist, and that they wanted to see their child have opportunities to socialise and play sport – just like every other child. Parents told us that their children were unable to engage in most of the weekend sport opportunities, as “regular clubs” were unable to cater for the additional needs. We had approximately 20 LORDS students across Years 7 to 12, and a small team of dedicated LORDS’ staff, sign up as volunteers.’
The program runs for 10 weeks each year and involves a range of drills and games designed to have participants connect, have fun, develop motor skills, and learn about teamwork and following instructions. Each session goes for two hours and involves fruit breaks, welcome circle time at the beginning during which students check in with each other, and then a ‘run–off’ at the end. In the run–off, participants and LORDS’ volunteers who have buddied up with them, run from one end of the basketball court to the other, to the cheers and support of the parents and staff watching on. ‘This is such a wonderful way to end each session and really reflects the heart of the program: participants and volunteers being side by side learning off each other, having fun together and cheering each other on’, Laura explains.
In 2017 LORDS hosted an even more popular second season with 50 participants and 30 volunteers and formed a partnership with Faith Lutheran College at Redlands.
‘In our second season we further developed our training program, which prepared students for becoming volunteers’, Laura says. ‘This involved students learning about some of the additional needs of the participants, for example, what is Down Syndrome, Autism or ADHD? Students learned about these additional needs and reflected on how the games and activities might need to be modified to adequately cater for these needs. Students also learned about valuing the innate dignity of each person – and that all of us are made by God and loved by God – and all of us, no matter our needs or circumstances, are to be respected, valued and given opportunities.’
This year the program is on track to have almost 70 participants and 50 volunteers. ‘Clearly the increase in participant numbers demonstrates that there is a need in the community’, Laura says. ‘Parents often cry happy tears and cheer on their children from the sideline – they tell us that the sporting activity is great but that the relationships and connections that our students are able to form with their children is the most valuable and precious thing.’