Flint, MI— Children enjoyed free food, music, and outdoor activities during Champions of Excellence, an event designed to celebrate and provide an inclusive space for Flint’s special education students.

Celebrating its 4th anniversary, CoE was started by Jeanette Edwards, president of the Brownell-Holmes Neighborhood Association, in 2018. The event was designed to bring Flint’s special education students together to mingle with each other, enjoy free food, games, and toys. More than anything, Edwards organized CoE in the hopes of helping these children feel like the center of attention.

Edwards, who worked as a paraprofessional for Flint Community Schools over the course of 15 years and who has helped raise her two special education grandchildren, said day-to-day activities in school can often be non-inclusive.

More than once, Edwards said she’s come to work only to find one of the students she worked with left behind during a field trip or even left inside during recess. Experiences like this, she said, led to the creation of CoE.

“So many times, learning support children, they feel left out and neglected, including my kids. So I decided to do something to make them feel special because they are special,” Edwards said. “They have special qualities just like everybody else. They just learn differently.”

Jeanette Edwards, 66, helps Sevyn McNeal, one, into a bounce house at the Champions of Excellence event on June 15, 2021. (Santiago Ochoa | Flint Beat)

The day started off slowly as Edwards had inadvertently scheduled the event for the first day of finals for Flint schools. She worried the event would be underattended, but as the day went on, children just two days away from summer break started showing up with their parents, eager to celebrate the beginning of summer.

The day was breezy and sunny as children ran around Hasselbring Park eating candy, playing with friends, dancing to music, and jumping inside the bounce houses.

As they arrived, Edwards gave each child a backpack with a CoE shirt, a toy, snacks, and school supplies. For the parents, Edwards had small gift bags provided by Consumers Energy filled with replacement light bulbs and bill-assistance information.

All attendees were also treated to hotdogs, turkey patties, pop, and snacks.

Edwards said she’d been looking forward to holding the event in Brownell-Holmes and hosting it outside again.

Because of COVID-19, last year CoE held a different type of event. Instead of hosting a public event, Edwards and other neighborhood association members created care packages for more than 100 of Flint’s special education students and put together a caravan that delivered the packages to everyone’s homes.

“This is really a festival for learning support children. It’s for the children who need a little extra help, the kids in wheelchairs, kids that just want to feel loved,” Edwards said.

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...

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