Imagine walking into your first day of high school: the excitement of taking the next step in your journey, the fear of the unknown, the anxiety of wondering if you will fit in. Now, imagine stepping into the doors of a school knowing you are different than the rest of your classmates or wondering if you will get bullied. For Zachary Boston, these thoughts filled his mind on his first day at Alexander Central High School.
After a ten-year career with Special Olympics Alexander County, Boston has made great friends and has become a seasoned athlete. Yet, taking that first step into high school was like taking a giant step out of his comfort zone.
“You just don’t know sometimes. I was so worried that Zachary would get bullied for being different,” Zachary’s mom, Heather, shared. “When I was in school, kids like him got bullied. I didn’t want that for him.”
Despite the fears the Boston family had, when Boston returned home after his first day, they knew Alexander Central High School would be different.
“I have lots of friends at school,” Boston says.
“I have never seen a group of high schoolers rally around a student with a disability,” says his mother. “I couldn’t have put Zachary in a more perfect school.”
Boston and his mother say that his best friend, Jaycie Knight, helped ease him into his high school experience.
“She is definitely his best friend,” says Boston’s mother. “He loves his Jaycie!”
The pair immediately hit it off and found that they had a lot in common. Like Boston, Knight loves to swim. She competes on Alexander County High School’s swim team. After learning that Boston also competed in swimming for Special Olympics Alexander County, Knight and her mother, Charman, a teaching assistant in Boston’s classes and the assistant swim coach, asked Boston to join her on the school’s swim team.
“About a year ago, Ms. Charman and Jaycie approached me to ask if Zachary could try out for the high school swim team,” says Boston’s mother. “I really trusted them and knew they would keep an eye on him while he was at practice so I let him. Since then, he has grown so much!”
A year later, Boston continues to swim for his team – competing in the 50-meter men’s division. Boston even achieved a new personal record in a December 2017 meet.
“The team really embraced him when he joined,” states his mother. “But more than that, the whole school has united around him. The students at ACHS are his biggest fans. They come to all of the meets and cheer so loudly when Zachary is swimming. It has been amazing to see!”
Boston, a normally shy student, has not only grown as an athlete, but as an individual, too.
“We go to the grocery store anywhere in the county and ten people know him and Zachary has to shake each of their hands,” explains Heather.
But even more than that, Boston has gained confidence that extends beyond the pool.
“Zach is seen as a leader around the school. Students watch him take initiative to assist others when needed,” Special Olympics Alexander County Local Program Coordinator, Amy Pruett explains.
Thanks to Alexander Central High School, a Unified Champion School, Boston has a place to call home.
“We are blessed to have a supportive and accepting student population. Our students are respected and are involved in every aspect of school functions, from pep rallies to proms to graduations,” Pruett exclaims.
When you walk through the hallways of Alexander Central High School, you see a welcoming environment where students and educators alike are beginning to understand the value of inclusion. Students are embracing their differences and are learning what it means to live and play Unified.
“I wish every school could be just like my school one day,” says Boston. “We all deserve that kind of school.”
As schools across the United States and the world join the Special Olympics movement, Boston’s hopes may come true. Students and educators continue to come together to build a future where no student fears walking into their first day of school and is embraced by a climate of inclusion, acceptance and respect.