Be a fan of respect. This simple phrase etched across a wristband embodies the spirit and message behind a special program in the Calallen Independent School District.
Students there are involved in a program known as "Meet in the Middle," which gives them a chance to interact and socialize with special education students at the school.
Kristi Kirchoff, special education teacher at Calallen High School, said the program got its start at Calallen Middle School during the 2008-09 school year, hence the name it was given. This is the first year it has been in place at the high school.
The Meet in the Middle project is actually the state's portion of a federally-sponsored program started by the Special Olympics on a national level.
It allows Calallen teens the opportunity to partner with special education students and participate in various activities that focus on interactivity and inclusiveness. The goal behind the program is to increase acceptance and awareness of each student's uniqueness, while also supporting fitness, disability awareness, academic achievement and sports-related training.
Garrett Bragg, a 14-year-old freshman at CHS, said he joined in the eighth grade, when the program was in its second year.
"When I got into it and saw the kids and had a great time with them, that's when I really started to enjoy it," he says.
While visiting with the special education students, Meet in the Middle youth conduct various activities, including arts and crafts. The group recently participated with the special education youth in a Special Olympics bowling tournament, one of the highlights for the teens this school year.
"We make signs to support them and cheer for them," Garrett says.
CISD Superintendent Arturo Almendarez says the program allows students to interact with a group that might not otherwise have that opportunity, and he hopes to see more of the district's youth get involved in the future. He recently visited with the Meet in the Middle group at the high school and came away amazed by what he saw.
"I was very impressed with all of the kids there and what they were doing," he says. "Several of the students were very serious about wanting to do something better (with their lives)."
The students are also making a conscious effort to inform their fellow students about being more respectful toward the mentally disabled and handicapped.
They hand out wristbands with their message of respect etched on them, as well as buttons with the letter "R" crossed out to try to get students to refrain from using the terms "retard" or "retarded" when referring to something negative, since they are derogatory words for those who are mentally handicapped.
CHS student Jordan Price says she had wanted to participate in the program the past two years, but was unable to due to her class schedule. This year is the first for her to be a part of Meet in the Middle, and she says it has given her a new perspective on life.
"It was a wake-up call for me, because I'm so grateful for what I have," Jordan says. "I see things more from a big picture (perspective). If I can help them and just interact with them, then it makes me feel like a good person that I can make a difference in these kids' lives."