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  • Combined, Northeast and Chesapeake High Schools raised more than $15,000 for Special Olympics Maryland through this year’s Cool Schools Challenge.
    Combined, Northeast and Chesapeake High Schools raised more than $15,000 for Special Olympics Maryland through this year’s Cool Schools Challenge.
  • Combined, Northeast and Chesapeake High Schools raised more than $15,000 for Special Olympics Maryland through this year’s Cool Schools Challenge.
    Combined, Northeast and Chesapeake High Schools raised more than $15,000 for Special Olympics Maryland through this year’s Cool Schools Challenge.

Northeast And Chesapeake High Contribute To The Cool Schools Challenge

Rob Odle
View Bio
February 22, 2017

This year’s Cool Schools Challenge was a huge success, as schools from across the state came together to raise more than $300,000 for Special Olympics Maryland. Helping to reach that total were students from both Northeast and Chesapeake high schools.

Northeast High School Students Take Pride In Participation

Northeast High School’s team of 105 plungers included students, faculty members, and even Otis Gray, a school custodian.

This year, Northeast raised $11,793 and was ranked as the seventh overall school in terms of fundraising.

Julia Lebowitz, the faculty member who oversees the plunge at Northeast, said that this year was an incredible success.

“To get over 100 people — we’ve only done that once before — was great,” she said. “We had kids from every different avenue. We also had a lot of first-time plungers, which is great because you light that fire under them and they want to do it in future years.”

Now that the team has hit a milestone of 100 participants, Lebowitz hopes that she will be able to increase that number each year. “It’s kind of a pride thing for us,” Lebowitz said, elaborating on the ever-increasing number of buses needed to transport students to the plunge. “We started out with one school bus, and then a couple years later, we had enough to get two buses, and then this year was the first that we had three. It’s a cheesy little pride thing for us, but it’s important.”

Otis Gray had never participated in the plunge before, but he chose to this year because of the students. “I promised them that I was going to go this year and they reminded me,” Otis said with a chuckle. “They said, ‘Mr. Otis, it’s next year.’ I kept my promise.”

He has always been curious about the plunge, and was happy to participate this year. “They got me,” Otis said of the students. “I’m hooked.”

Gray is not the only member of the Northeast community who is hooked on the plunge.

McKenzi Priest has been actively engaged with the Cool Schools Challenge since eighth grade. The event was heavily promoted during that time, and she couldn’t help participating from then on. “I’ve just been doing it ever since,” she said. This year, Priest raised $400 and hopes to beat that total next year. Priest’s cousin has Down syndrome, so she is thrilled to support others like him. “It’s just a really good cause and I love doing it every year,” she said.

Another student participant is Elliot Lowman. Lowman is an Alternative Curriculum Class student and has been participating in the plunge for four years — often landing himself as the school’s most successful fundraiser. It is Lowman’s goal to participate every year until he graduates, and he is well on his way to completing that mission. “I can’t wait to do it next year,” he said.

Aj Moya is somewhat new to the challenge. He began participating last year after looking for new service opportunities. “I just like helping in any way that I can — just being involved in anything that I can help with,” he said.

Moya, who raised $125, explained that he enjoys participating not only because it’s for a good cause but also because of the incredible show of school spirit throughout the day. “Our whole school gets so hyped about it. It’s really fun,” he said.

Chesapeake High School Uses The Cool Schools Challenge To Build Bridges

In her first year at the helm of Chesapeake’s Cool Schools Challenge team, Natasha White saw success abound.

The team comprised 91 members who raised $5,688 for Special Olympics.

Admittedly, these results are not indicative of the power of Chesapeake students, as White said the school got a late start to this year’s challenge. Recruitment and fundraising didn’t really begin until December, so students only had about one month to gather what donations they could. Still, despite the short timeline, White was thrilled with student participation. “The kids were really engaged with it and that was awesome,” she said.

But what Chesapeake lacked in mind-blowing fundraising totals, it made up for in important lessons for all students.

White, a special education teacher at the school, took the challenge as an opportunity to connect her students with the general population at the school.

She encouraged special education students to collect money and spread the word to their peers, and she invited non-special education students to visit her classrooms and meet some of her students. “It’s pretty cool because a lot of the Special Olympians come from our program,” White said, adding that it’s beneficial for students to meet the beneficiaries of their fundraising efforts.

White said that students were thrilled to connect with the special education community, and some of her students felt the same way. White remarked that one student really broke out of his shell to fundraise and get his fellow students as involved as possible with the plunge. “He got to shine and it helped build his skills,” she said. “He just got out there and started asking people if they wanted to donate to Special Olympics and explained why it was important.”

This type of effort not only spreads awareness of the plunge but also allows those special education students to feel accepted and included as they work toward a common goal with fellow students.

“We want them to be able to experience this,” White said of her special education students. “We want them to know how many people are behind them. When they feel like they have people rallying behind them cheering them on, they feel included. They don’t feel as different and they know that they are equal to their peers.”

Next year, White plans to spread awareness of the Cool Schools Challenge much earlier in the year so that students from all walks of life are able to experience its effects. “Next year, I feel like we can double our numbers,” she said. But no matter what next year’s results are, the focus will remain on inclusion and support for others.

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