BILLINGS — On a morning when students are typically in class, students at Billings West High were marching through the hallways to promote inclusion.
Students and staff marched at West High on Wednesday morning in a demonstration of solidarity for students with special needs. It was a cause that saw the entire student body stand together.
"The event today is a culmination of the hard work of the special educators and the students. We have some students that have definitely opened doors here at West High for kids to be included," said Billings Assistant Principal Fred Petak.
West High is a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, a nationwide program aimed at promoting inclusion.
That means the school has unified classes, such as P.E. and construction/trade, where special-needs students intermingle with the rest of the student body. And band, choir, cheer and track programs are also unified, meaning students with disabilities participate fully with their peers.
"I think in the past we’ve kept kids in single classrooms instead of immersing the rest of the community with kids that have special needs. And now we’re seeing what that can bring," added Petak.
The march on Wednesday was a show of support for the program and those students.
"I think they’re loving it and I think it means a lot to them just to know that everybody’s here for them and that we’re all ready to have a good time and show them love and show them respect," said West High sophomore and peer tutor Parker Johns.
"It makes everyone happy to feel included and respected," said Billings West High sophomore Keila Reed.
"It means that it’s spreading the word and people are being nice to everyone and everyone is equal," said Billings West High sophomore Aidan Tate on Wednesday.
That positive attitude is something peer tutor and West High junior Abby Johnston says is inspiring.
"It doesn’t matter what kind of day that I’m having, whether that be good or bad, anytime that I step into unified P.E. or sixth period, I know that my mood is going to be immediately raised up because of how positive and wonderful all of these kids are. They don’t even have to try because they’re just so unapologetically them," said Johnston.
It's students showing that they can accomplish anything, as their peers stand by them to show they’re always in their corner.