July 17, 2024 Donate

Dexter, Dexter Education, Michigan

Dexter High School’s Upcoming Polar Plunge is Much More Than a Fundraiser

DHS students participated in the 2023 Polar Plunge. Photo courtesy Dexter High School.

The Polar Plunge
Dexter High School is holding its second “Polar Plunge” on Wednesday, February 28, 2024, to raise funds for its Unified Sports Programs and Special Olympics Michigan. As a demonstration of their commitment to Dexter’s Unified Sports teams and inclusion for all learners, registered “plungers” will take turns jumping into the near-freezing water of a specially designed mobile pool parked right in DHS’s rear parking lot.

There are already 55 “plungers” registered but organizers hope to see that number climb to 100 before the event takes place. DHS students and staff can register to jump in the Polar Plunge or watch safely from dry land, but either way, advanced registration is required. More information about the event, registration, and how to donate can all be found on the DHS Polar Plunge website.

Inclusion Week
And though it might be the most entertaining event on the schedule, the Polar Plunge is actually just one of many activities planned for DHS’s upcoming Inclusion Week 2024, which takes place February 24th through March 1st. According to Kalli Nowitzke, one of Inclusion Week’s organizers and a Special Education teacher at DHS, “Inclusion Week highlights the progress our world has made, and the opportunities still to come, to increase access for those who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized because of their disability.”

She continued, “The Unified program encourages schools to host Inclusion Week in the same week as the Polar Plunge. Wendy Martin, Beth Kovarik, Angela Anderson and I attended a Unified conference this past summer. We learned about Inclusion Week and gathered ideas from other programs throughout our state.”

Other events scheduled for Inclusion Week include a Silent Disco Dance, a Wheelchair Basketball Assembly, daily “themes” for attire, customized classroom programming, guest speakers, and a pizza lunch.

In honor of Rare Disease Day on Thursday, February 29th, organizers are working to “Light Up” the gazebo in Dexter’s Monument Park, “to show support and increase awareness of Rare Diseases,” said Nowitzke. Rare Disease Day is a “globally-coordinated movement on rare diseases, working towards equity in social opportunity, healthcare, and access to diagnosis and therapies for people living with a rare disease,” according to its website.

Unified Champion School and Unified Sports
Inclusion Week is one demonstration of a larger commitment made by several Dexter schools to qualify as Unified Champion Schools, a designation given by The Special Olympics. According to their website, a Unified Champion School is committed to, “promoting social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change in K–12 schools and across college campuses.”

What kind of change can the program bring? “Our athletes and peers earned their first Unified varsity letters this fall during the soccer season!” said Nowitzke.

Dexter High School, Creekside, Wylie, and Anchor/Beacon have all qualified to be Unified Champion Schools. To be recognized as a Unified Champion School and qualify for funding, a school must implement inclusive sports and inclusive leadership opportunities while also demonstrating a commitment to engaging the whole school community.

Dexter School’s SNAP (Students Need Accepting Peers) club serves as its inclusive leadership program and several Unified sports teams meet the inclusive sports requirement. Dexter has a Unified team for soccer and basketball, and new for this year is a track team.

There are additional Unified teams in development including dance, PE, and gaming while the SNAP club is working to develop other Unified activities too, like art. The Unified Basketball team has more than 40 players participating, representing 3rd through 12th grades, and a recent bowling event attracted more than 90 students! While the Unified sports teams are different than the non-Unified teams, in some sports like track, the two teams will collaborate and even participate in some of the same meets.

The Student Experience
When asked what he liked about being on a Unified team Paul Katz said, “I like when my parents, teammates and coaches cheer for me. It makes me feel good.”

Nowitzke said, “Many of the athletes ask if “today” is a practice or game day and hope that it’s one or the other. Other peers have commented about how meaningful it is. Many of the peers and athletes are enjoying sharing a new type of leadership role with one another.

“There have been a lot of proud moments on the soccer field and on the basketball court. We’re starting to build this very loving, encouraging, and inclusive community of athletes. Many of our students with higher needs are developing genuine friendships that were difficult to establish before this. There is a true sense of belonging occurring with the students. They are walking down the hallways with their heads held high, with so much confidence radiating.

“Some of the students are enjoying being independent – taking the bus to practice with their friends. Others are enjoying the competition against other schools as well as meeting the other teams. The students are excited to play against EMU and meet the college team.”

A Special Olympics “mobile” pool, similar to what will be used for DHS’s Polar Plunge on Wednesday, February 28. Photo courtesy of Dexter High School.