FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – For children with intellectual and physical disabilities, sometimes the toughest part is fitting in with the other children.
However, there’s one program at Southside Middle School in Florence that has those kids at center court and cheering as loud as they can.
This year is the first year the school is involved with The Sparkle Effect initiative, after a few years of working to get it started.
“You want to give them an opportunity to truly connect with you typically developing teens,” said cheer coach Kimberly Matthews-Robinson.
The Sparkle Effect is an initiative that connects students with and without disabilities through cheer.
“And I said, oh my god, this is perfect for our school,” Robinson stated.
“23 percent of our students at Southside are special needs students. So they are a very important part of our school culture,” mentioned Principal Craig Washington.
This is the first year Southside Middle has been a part of The Sparkle Effect. The children get a chance to both practice and then perform at halftime during the girls’ basketball games.
Wednesday night was only the team’s second performance ever.
“They act like they’ve known you for the longest time but they’ve only really known for a month or so,” said Sara Margaret, team captain.
“They can interact, they can hug. Because the children and kids embrace them,” explained Talisha Cooper, whose daughter Kennedi participates in the program.
Right now, Southside Middle is the only middle school in the state involved with The Sparkle Effect.
“That’s really one of our goals is for them to realize that we are all the same,” said teacher Miriam Fulghum.
School officials hope to spread the program throughout the district.
To learn more about The Sparkle Effect, click here.