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 Students with Disabilities Participate in Wheel-a-thon

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Students at Friendship School had a chance to get outside, raise money for the school and interact with the community Thursday as part of their annual “wheel-a-thon” fundraiser.

The Imperial Beach school serves students from the southern portions of the county with multiple and severe disabilities along with health problems.

“Every school has a fundraiser, and I really feel that it’s important for our kids to have the same opportunities that everyone else has,” Principal Diana Lynn said.

Parents, community volunteers, and employees at the Imperial Beach campus helped push the student around the campus in their wheelchairs for an hour to see who could get the most laps.

“It’s a way for them to socialize,” said Shannon Unterberg, a teacher at the school who helps organize the event. “It’s a way for them to interact and just get outside and enjoy themselves.”

The students seemed to enjoy the activity while some of their helpers got into the competitive spirit.

Janet Kelly, whose 21-year-old daughter attends the school, flew all the way from Louisville, Kentucky to attend the fundraiser. She said she wanted to be there to support the school and educators who have been so helpful with her daughter.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “I feel so strongly for the cause.”

Both Kelly and her daughter have enjoyed the “wheel-a-thon” in the past, and she said she especially wanted to be there this time since it will be her daughter’s last year at the school.

“It’s the little things like her feeling the breeze on her face and her smile,” she said. “That would be worth flying in from Bangladesh for.”

Educators at the school started the fundraiser four years ago.

Laura Alvarado said her 14-year-old son at the school has also always enjoyed the fundraiser, which is full of positive reinforcement and encouragement.

“He loves it,” she said. “The more support that he sees, the happier he is.”

Parents and other community members were asked to make donations to the school regardless of how many laps students finished. The money will help pay for an outdoor area where students can relax, get some exercise and learn through all of their senses.

The area will be similar to a pod and room already at the school. These are part of the school's Assistive Technology and Sensory Integration program, which includes interactive white boards, mirrored walls, fiber optic images, an aromatherapy machine, and other devices. In 2012, the school earned a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association for the program.

Friendship School is operated by the San Diego County Office of Education in affiliation with the school districts in the South County Special Education Local Plan Area. It serves about 50 students who range in age from 3 to 22.