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Pittsfield Public School children united on Friday morning to take part in the district's third annual Unified Game Day, a daylong Special Olympics event at Clapp Park.
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The event featured several activities including soccer, softball catching, lacrosse, and long jump.

Pittsfield Public Schools Hold Unified Game Day

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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Kids get a kick out of the Pittsfield Fire Department's Sparky. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield Public School children united on Friday morning to take part in the district's third annual Unified Game Day. 
The event brought together not just the district's special needs children and mainstreaming students but also their families, administrators, and staff, all participating in a daylong Special Olympics event at Clapp Park. 
"That inclusivity is something that's so important. It's such an important part of the Pittsfield Public Schools. It's a chance to celebrate the diversity of our students and that each student and staff member has so much to offer together," Superintendent Joseph Curtis said. 
"And then certainly the impact on our entire community as we are making every effort to diversify our school attendance districts, and this is certainly an opportunity to showcase how important that is."
The event featured several activities for kids, including soccer, softball catching, lacrosse, and long jump. The Fire Department also brought Sparky, the robotic firehouse dog, and handed out firefighter caps. 
The children danced, ran, laughed, played, ate lunch under the warm sun, and cooled off to the water sprayed by Sparky's fire hose. 
They kicked off the event with a gathering in the park's front baseball field. More than 400 students gathered in a circle to show off their classroom posters, which they made signifying their schools.
They surprised their parents with a choreographed dance to "A Sky Full of Stars" by Coldplay in honor of educators Linda Diehl and Katie Lefkowitz.
Diehl, who passed away in February, was a longtime coordinator of the Parent-Child Home Program. She gave families the supplies and strategies for early childhood education, co-organizer, and Stearns special education teacher Bridget McKeever said. 
"Diehl really made a community for Pittsfield and really started early intervention and the need for it and to really steadily go into homes, give people what they need," she said.  
They also recognized Unified Game Day co-organizer and speech pathologist Lefkowitz, who recently beat cancer after fighting it for a year. She is a strong, brave, brilliant woman, and nothing will stop her, McKeever said.
"She was in our minds, our thoughts, and our hearts this entire year, making sure that she'd be okay and be healthy, and that's the road that is happening. So, we're excited for her, and we wanted to make sure that our performance was for her because we see a bit of that in the sky full of starts every night," she said 
"Katie's the epitome of grit and pushing forward. And you know what, we all could benefit from doing that and learning from her."
The event was established three years ago by Stearns special education teacher Bridget McKeever and speech pathologist Katie Lefkowitz in an effort to showcase students' strengths, lower the gap between mainstream students and students with disabilities, and make everyone feel accepted. Check out the inaugural Unified Game Day article here
"I think it has actually the greatest impact on the mainstream students because they learn. They learn qualities of acceptance and appreciation for difference, and we all need to learn that lesson, not only in the city of Pittsfield, but across the United States," Curtis said. 
"It's often you hear about differences and not such a positive life, and this event showcases how important it is to be representative of our entire community, and those differences impact us all in positive ways."
The event has been fun, students said. The environment is welcoming, and you get to meet and see other people from different schools, Herberg Middle School 8th Grade student Autumn Appleby and 7th Grade student Rylee Stone said. 
"I have social anxiety, but even here you're pretty comfortable. There are a lot of people that you might already know. I've met already a few people I haven't seen in two years and it's good to see everybody again," Appleby said. 
Since launching the initiative McKeever said she has already seen its ripple effect throughout her school and district. 
"I think people are a little bit more open-minded about things. I think people are really learning. We're having knowledgeable conversations about different diagnoses," she said. 
One of the best things Stearns has been doing is its "What Makes Us Special" program, which every month focuses on a variety of topics that are not talked about but should be, such as mental health, Down syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, visual impairments, and more. 
The Unified Game Day has grown since its initial inception, and McKeever hopes to continue seeing it grow. 
This year, due to work being done on the Taconic High School field, the event took place at Clapp Park. 
Although McKeever said she misses the ease of being at Taconic, with the field being right up the hill from the bus drop-off location, she likes that it is at the park. 
The park had all the amenities that they needed and worked out nicely. 
‘It's community. It's nice to have people here, it's nice for them to see that this is a resource for them to use in the city. So I like that it's here," she said.
No matter where the event takes place the mission is still the same — "it's about the kids, their smiles, them having fun, and really building this as a community event," McKeever said. 
McKeever said it is crucial that a district have organization, patience, and training to ensure inclusion in the schools. 
"You need training to be able to work with students with special needs, and then the greatest part of that is you can take all of that training and use it with any student," she said. 
There needs to be coordination between the administration and the teachers. Pittsfield is moving in the right direction regarding training. 
"We're actually coming up with what we need as training and then actually providing it with experts within the district, McKeever said. 
"So I think that's great to utilize the people that really do know what they're doing because they've been through it, and they've lived it"
She said that when teaching, you make a plan, but that plan may be changed ten times before it is executed, so you have to be very flexible. 
The event has taken collaboration amongst a number of educators who worked to make this day happen. Some teachers showed up to the school at 6:30 a.m. on Friday to help prepare, McKeever said 
"I could not miss this event. It was truly an honor when I attended in the past and just see the teamwork, the presence of our staff and children and families together all in one spot on such a beautiful day to celebrate our children's diversity and all they have to offer to each other, our school system and our community," Curtis said. 

Tags: Pittsfield Public Schools,   Special Olympics,   

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Letter: Berkshire State Delegation Needed to Pass Ban on Puppy Mills

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The public may be aware that I spear-headed local legislation in Pittsfield and Lenox banning the sale of puppies from puppy mills at pet stores. Berkshire Voters for Animals and the Massachusetts Humane Society were strong advocates and helped immensely.

I have received an email from Berkshire Voters for Animals stating, "There is still one of our bills in its original committee that needs to be released by June 14th or it will not have a chance to be passed this session. Time is running out for Massachusetts lawmakers to advance legislation that will prevent commercial dog breeders (puppy mills) from trucking cruelly bred puppies into pet shops. New York, Maryland and California have successfully passed similar laws. Massachusetts should be next!"

The appeal was that "We need you to contact your rep to ask them to contact the House Chair of the Environment Committee to release the bill."

It is my hope that the bill makes it out of committee and not die there, as too many good pieces of proposed legislation often does. I cannot stress how popular these initiatives were. In Pittsfield, I have had ordinances pass that took literally as much as one-half a decade to get passed. No so with this. Dozens upon dozens showed up in support for the ordinance. The Pittsfield City Council passed it immediately, with no debate.

Lenox has an open town meeting where any town resident can show up and vote, and of the dozens upon dozens of people that attended (it may have been over 100, but I am not a good judge of audience size), not a single one voted against the legislation when put to a final vote. In fact, that vote was almost instantaneous.

According to the letter, Sen. Paul Mark and he has spoken with the Senate chair. I respectfully request Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Rep. John Barrett, and Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, excellent legislators of the Berkshire Delegation of whom I am fond of, to help pass S.550/H. 826/S. 549, "An Act banning the retail sale of cats and dogs in pet shops" before the 2024 legislative session ends. This salutary law is enjoys widespread and practically unanimous support from the public.

Rinaldo Del Gallo
Pittsfield, Mass.




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