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    Seven-year-old Fatima Ruiz gives her mother, Carolina Ruiz, a hug after competing in a race. The annual event, a tradition for more than 25 years, drew about 150 parents, volunteers and students from neighboring schools.


    Students from Holy Spirit Elementary School cheer on the participants.


    Jordan Lorigan celebrates as he crosses the finish line at Jessie Baker School's version of the Olympic Games. The games are a long tradition at the Elk Grove school, which helps the disabled develop life skills for the future. "This is about letting them shine," said Principal Cindee Shapton.


    Morelia Castrejon holds a crepe paper Olympic torch during opening ceremonies.

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Elk Grove school kicks off games for special needs students

Published: Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013 - 7:54 am

For two hours on Wednesday, students at Jessie Baker School in Elk Grove competed in their version of the Olympic Games.

The school's 165 students all have some sort of disability, but that wasn't stopping them from racing across the finish line or jumping over obstacles.

"This is about letting them shine," Principal Cindee Shapton said.

The annual games - a tradition for more than 25 years - drew about 150 parents, volunteers and students from neighboring schools. They gathered with a mission: to cheer the participants on.

"Let the games begin," Shapton shouted, to the beating of drums by the Elk Grove High School drum line.

Praneet Kumar, 18, charged across the finish line in the 100-meter dash, with two classmates trailing him. He was elated that he had finished first.

"I'm feeling pretty good and very happy," he said afterward, panting and with sweat dripping off his forehead. "I trained a long time for this."

The students at Jessie Baker range in age from 3 to 22. Like any other school, students there learn the fundamentals including reading, writing and math, Shapton said. The real emphasis, however, is on developing life skills for the future.

Thirteen percent of the nation's public school students have a disability, according to 2009-10 figures from the U.S. Department of Education. In 1976, that number was 8.3 percent. The disabilities range from developmental delay to speech or language impairments.

Retired firefighter Dan Lake, 52, was one of several dozen parents snapping photos of their children from the bleachers.

A regular at the games, Lake said he moved from Vacaville to Elk Grove in 2004 so his autistic son, Danny, now 21, could attend Jessie Baker.

"It's just fun to watch the kids grow up," he said. "You see progress with all the kids."

A school with only disabled students has its benefits, Lake said, noting that he doesn't have to worry about transportation or his son's rights.

At his son's previous school, "I had to be an expert," Lake said, referring to his knowledge of education protections for disabled students. "Here, I can just be dad."

At one station on Wednesday, four eighth-graders from Placer Elementary School in Loomis were teaching the Jessie Baker kids how to jump.

"Bend your knees and push your arms back," said Cassidy Marquez, demonstrating a jump.

Volunteering at the games is a way to give back to fellow students in need, said Shabad Kalotia, student council president at Elk Grove's Raymond Case Elementary School.

"We're a part of the community, too," said Shabad, 11.

Most contestants had no trouble completing the events on their own, but for the few who did need a hand, volunteers were standing by.

"We make sure they have fun and assist them when they need it," said Justin Sobcoviak, 17, of Bradshaw Christian School in Sacramento.

The three-day competition continues Thursday with relay races and culminates on Friday with an awards ceremony at which everyone receives a medal.

On Saturday, the school will finish off the week with a walkathon fundraiser for new exercise equipment.

"They feel great about themselves," Shapton said.

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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