Aledo has a field day for special-needs students

ALEDO -- Shelby Sims and Alex Hannah, eighth-graders at Brewer Middle School, spent Thursday morning at Aledo High School's stadium doing pretty much what young girls do best -- seeing and being seen.

The pair were participants in Aledo's 10th annual Jumpin' Jamboree, a field-day event for special-needs students from the school districts south and west of Tarrant County.

"I like it here a lot," said Shelby, who looked around eagerly, taking it all in. "I like seeing all the other people, and we're doing face painting next, and then eating lunch."

They could have added basketball, bowling, golf, Frisbee pitching, karaoke and a dunking booth to their activities.

Organizers estimated that 150 special-needs students participated in Jumpin' Jamboree this year. Aledo High School furnished 190 student volunteers to be one-on-one "buddies," and community volunteers served lunch.

Teachers and paraprofessionals said that what sets Jumpin' Jamboree apart from similar events is that the volunteer students form bonds with the special-needs students.

"They so look forward to having the individual seniors as buddies," said Michelle Hipp, a paraprofessional from Peaster. "They love meeting somebody new, and it makes it easier for them to socialize."

Hipp and other faculty members accompanied 11 Peaster special-needs students. Two students from Poolville were also aboard the bus, arriving in time to join the 10 a.m. opening parade led into the stadium by the Aledo drumline.

Students also came from Brock, White Settlement, Lake Worth, Granbury and Glen Rose. Jamboree founder Jane Gann said that preserving the small-town community feel is important.

"We get lots of phone calls from other districts wanting to participate, but we limit it because we don't want to take away from the camaraderie of it," said Gann, who was an adaptive physical-education teacher at Aledo when she came up with the idea.

Kristin Pass, 20, was also on hand for the event, though as a 2009 Aledo graduate she couldn't participate.

Pass was Aledo High School's homecoming queen last year and is a veteran of Jumpin' Jamborees since elementary school.

"This year I'm just watching everyone else," said Pass, a student at Weatherford College.

A little later, Shelby and Alex showed off the results of their visit to the face-painting booth. Shelby's cheeks sported orange and black wildcat paw prints, while Alex opted for a simple green peace symbol on her arm. Their new best friend Carley Shearer, an Aledo High School volunteer, wore wildcat whiskers.

"I like interacting with the kids and doing something out of the ordinary," Shearer said.

Mary Bassett, Alex and Shelby's teacher, said the bus ride home from Jumpin' Jamboree is always animated.

"They talk about the things they've done, whom they have seen," she said of her students. "And of course they talk about their partners."

Tony Gallegos, 18, captured the mood of the day when he sang Lean On Me along with the karaoke machine as events were winding down to the medal ceremony and picnic lunch.

"I'm just having fun," said the Aledo senior as his mom, Kim Dugan archived the moment with a video camera. "I liked the dunking booth and basketball."

Gallegos said he managed to dunk his friend Brandon Rangel, so the day was all good.

"I'm so proud of him," Dugan said as she brushed away a tear and watched Gallegos head for the center of the field for his medal. "He has the kindest heart."

SHIRLEY JINKINS, 817-390-7657