The excitement on the students’ faces was evident Friday as they filed into the football stadium at Ashley Ridge High School.
Led by the school’s band through a tunnel of cheering students and under a balloon arch, they entered the field for the opening ceremony of the school’s fifth Swamp Fest, an annual field day for about 200 special-needs students across Dorchester District 2.
“Are the students excited about this event?” said Newington assistant teacher Regina Huggins. “Let me put it this way. I got a big hug and a kiss from one of my boys when he looked out the window of the bus and saw that we were here.”
These are trainable mentally disabled and profoundly mentally disabled students. They are students who do not often get to go on field trips, Huggins said.
When asked by Principal Karen Radcliffe to come up with a schoolwide service project shortly after Ashley Ridge opened in 2008, special education teacher Irene Mazell envisioned the field. About 125 attended that first year.
The event has grown each year, Assistant Principal Mona Caudle said.
“This has definitely become one of the things that defines us here,” she said.
This year, the school’s Key Club took over organizing the event.
“It’s something everyone looks forward to, from the kids who get to come participate to our students who volunteer,” said school counselor Sean Connor, who is also a sponsor of the Key Club. “We all get a lot out of it.”
About 1,000 Ashley Ridge students helped organize this year’s event, serving as buddies to participants or running the 40-plus game booths, which ranged from the soccer team’s penalty kicks to the National Honor Society’s Whack-a-Nerd water balloon toss, all adapted to fit the students’ needs. There also was face painting, parachute play, bowling, a dunk booth and more. Every club and sports team at the school participates.
Junior Eric Poland said students not only enjoy volunteering for the event but also see its benefits.
“It allows for all the special needs students to get involved and gives them a normal day,” he said.