Preschoolers compete in CUSD Mini-Olympics

Photos by Valerie Shelton
Preschoolers from Gettysburg Elementary School are welcomed to the Buchanan High campus for the 19th annual CUSD Mini-Olympics.

By Valerie Shelton, Editor

CUSD Superintendent Janet Young (middle) with Jennifer Kersten (right) and Katie Kraetsch (left).
CUSD Superintendent Janet Young (middle) with Jennifer Kersten (right) and Katie Kraetsch (left).

Over 500 Clovis Unified preschoolers visited the Buchanan High School campus on Thursday, May 19, to compete in the 19th annual Mini-Olympics.

It was a fun-filled day for the young athletes as they competed in a short race and relay, shot hoops, caught bubbles, squeezed sponges from bucket to bucket and played with rainbow parachutes.

Event coordinator and special education pre-k teacher Jennifer Kersten said the event started as a field day for special education preschool students 19 years ago with just 30 kids participating and has since expanded to include preschool students in both special education and regular education throughout the district. The events, she said, are designed so that all kids can participate.

“We try to have activities available to the kids that any kid can do no matter what their ability level and we have kids with special needs out here and then we have their friends from the general population preschools,” Kersten said. “They have the water sponge relay where they get the sponge in the water and squeeze it into another bucket, they have shooting hoops where they shoot balls into hoops, they have stomp boards bean bags, where they stomp them and they fly up and they catch them, they have bubbles with rainbow wands and they have parachutes where they play with the parachute and get their picture taken with their class and they also get to race on the track and do a sprint. At the end they all get gold medals.”

Students from Garfield Elementary School compete in a friendly race and relay.
Students from Garfield Elementary School compete in a friendly race and relay.

Leann Gajarian Keeler, who works as a parent liaison at the Family Resource Center, said the event is meaningful for the special needs children.

“It means a lot to them to get to participate in something and be recognized and it means a lot to the families as well to have their kids recognized and be a part of something that puts typical and special needs children all together,” Keeler said. “There is no difference; everyone just comes and is an athlete.”

CUSD Superintendent Dr. Janet Young said the Mini-Olympics is one of her favorite events of the year.

“When you come out here, you can’t help but smile,” Young said. “There is joy everywhere. I think in Clovis Unified when we say our charge is to maximize achievement for all students in our strategic plan we have the word all capitalized, this is the perfect example of how we have an incredible educational team that is really committed to helping every child fulfill their fullest potential. Today, we get to see the educational team partnered with the families and the parents and we’re all working together to help every child be the best and love coming to school and know that they are cared for and cared about and that they matter. It is just the best of the best. I’m proud of our team and it is because of them it has been building.

Students from Miramonte Elementary School enter the CUSD Mini-Olympics.
Students from Miramonte Elementary School enter the CUSD Mini-Olympics.

“Families want to bring their kids here because they know their kids are special to us. I come every year and to see it grow over time just really touches my heart. This is the first year that we’ve had it here in this venue on the Buchanan High campus and we just feel it is perfect. The special education team is absolutely thrilled to use this facility because everyone is close together but there is plenty of room for movement and plenty of access for our kids, families, parking, buses, everything and it is safe and it is clean and it just feels like Disneyland. It has that same joyful atmosphere.”

As the kids go from station to station competing in each mini-Olympic event, it is hard to distinguish the “regular” preschoolers from those with special needs.

“That is the most beautiful part about it because we really are a microcosm of society and we have everyone working together and enjoying time and helping one another and being partners with one another and it is really cool,” Young said.

Assistant Superintendent Carlo Prandini also praised the event and his favorite mini-Olympic activity—catching bubbles at the bubble station.
“There is nothing that bubbles can’t fix,” Prandini smiled. “The other great part about this is you see a lot of our high school kids here helping and it is good community service for them. Everybody benefits.”

Clovis Mayor Nathan Magsig also joined in the mini-Olympic fun.

“Clovis Unified is clearly committed to kids,” Magsig said. “We recognize that some have special needs but we want to give the same opportunity to all of them and Clovis Unified is definitely doing that with this event. I’ve come out just to celebrate with the families and the kids over the years because they are special. They are gifts in our community and they do inspire so it is a great opportunity for families to be together with kids and just for kids to have a lot of fun.”