For Shannon Krekula of Byron, Friday’s Activity Day for students of the Zumbro Education District was a heartwarming time for her 12-year-old son, Jeffrey.
He took part in a variety of activities, including races, soccer, bowling, T-ball and even some tattoos.
Krekula said the activity day was especially important in helping to boost her son’s confidence level. Jeffrey suffers from developmental delays and behavioral issues, including ADHD. “It totally increases his confidence,” she said, noting he doesn’t do well in other organized sports. “For him it has been a fun experience that he wouldn’t normally be able to do in the community.”
Jeffrey was one of about 200 kids in grades K-6 from around the region that participated in the annual ZED Activity Day held on the grounds of Triton School in Dodge Center. ZED services students from Triton, Kasson-Mantorville, Byron, Pine Island, Hayfield, Stewartville and Blooming Prairie.
The activity day is a great way for students to build confidence and self esteem, according to Patrick Gordon, executive director of ZED. Students participating most often suffer from physical disabilities, medical ailments and other low cognitive abilities.
“This day allows them to feel the independence that we strive for in special education,” Gordon said. “This is a huge piece of their programming. It’s giving them independence. They get to be a kid.”
Gordon said the heart of the activity day is getting the special ed kids to take part in the track and field events and socialize with other kids.
The crowds, Gordon said, have grown significantly over the years since the event started 28 years ago. “It’s a collaborative event that has gotten bigger and bigger every year,” he said. He added Carol Anhalt started the event was started to “celebrate students who struggled to participate in track and field.”
For most the students, the activity day is the highlight of the school year for them, Gordon said. “They hear the cheering. It’s something these kids don’t experience a lot,” he said. “It’s like a mini-special Olympics.”
To help cheer on the participants, a group of National Honor Society students from Triton dressed up as Super Heroes and allowed the kids to take pictures with them.
“We’re just making kids happy,” said McKenna Jennings, one of the Super Heroes.
Next year the activity day will take place in Blooming Prairie.