Equal Education for Children of All Abilities: School is more than spelling tests and multiplication tables. It’s a place to discover who you are and what makes you unique.Unfortunately, children with disabilities often do not have the same opportunities as other children for social interaction and self-discovery in school. Less than 50% of children with disabilities complete their primary education and fewer still have access to after-school sports or social activities that can help expand their horizons.
Access to school sports and after-school activities can dramatically improve the life of a child with a disability. They can build their self-confidence, make new friends, discover their passions and be celebrated for what they bring to a team.
2013 Youth Honoree Sarah Cronk of The Sparkle Effect has launched more than 100 inclusive cheerleading teams in middle schools, high schools and colleges in the United States. Sparkle Effect teams bring children of all abilities together and create a culture of acceptance in and out of the classroom.
Meet Korryn, one of the original Sparkle Effect cheerleaders. Because of The Sparkle Effect, Korryn went from being too shy to speak to her teacher to performing in front of her entire school.
Just be yourself. This phrase has been echoed by parents and teachers across the world as the number one life lesson for children to learn.
But how easy is it to live by?
As we grew up, many of us learned that “just being yourself” is surprisingly difficult; it’s almost too easy to forget how to be yourself when so many other people want you to be someone else.
Korryn is arguably one of the best people you will ever meet at being herself. A natural leader, Korryn loves to make friends, dance when everyone is watching and has a knack for putting people at ease. She has no fear of performing on stage, whether in front of her entire school or a live studio audience on Oprah.
“Korryn always sees the good in people,” said Paige, her sister. “She doesn’t just promote inclusion, she lives it. No one is different in her eyes.”
Life wasn’t always like this for Korryn. It’s hard to imagine that this smiling, outgoing girl used to be shy and could hardly speak when spoken to by a teacher or someone she didn’t know.
Korryn isn’t alone. Over five million students with disabilities attend public school in the United States; yet most school sports and activities outside of the classroom are not designed to accommodate them. This dramatically limits their opportunities to socialize with peers or discover a special talent. Without a network of support, school quickly becomes isolating and lonely.
“For young people, socializing with peers is a huge part of what school is about,” said Sarah Cronk, a long-time disability rights activist and recipient of our 2013 Youth Award. “Without it, students’ self-esteem and confidence suffer. Those feelings of isolation and loneliness negatively impact quality of life.”
That’s why Sarah decided to start The Sparkle Effect, a nonprofit that has launched more than 100 school-based cheerleading and dance teams for children of all abilities. Sparkle Effect teams give students like Korryn the opportunity to interact with their peers, build self-confidence and celebrate what makes them unique.
Korryn was one of the very first Sparkle Effect cheerleaders. After one season on the team, she had gained confidence and wasn’t afraid to let her personality shine through in her dancing.
“Korryn truly has it all,” Sarah said. “She performs with spunk and confidence. She practices with focus and determination. And, she does it all with an open heart and a smile on her face.”
Now, Korryn inspires others with her courage, compassion for others, and unique ability to dance her heart out.
“She isn’t afraid to be herself,” Paige said, “and I truly believe that The Sparkle Effect has given her that confidence and the acceptance and inclusion she needed in order to grow.”