Special education teacher Regina Baucum wants to change the world, and she’s starting with her own elementary school.
Last Friday, Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy held its first ever Special Olympics Unified Field Day in Los Angeles, CA. Organized by Baucum, this amazing event joined together elementary students with and without developmental disabilities in a supportive, fun environment.
I was lucky enough to experience Field Day firsthand, and it was such a blast! The morning was jam packed with sports activities, rousing music, and lots of celebration, all with one main theme — inclusiveness for each and every attendee. The festivities allowed all of the students to play together on the same team, cheer each other on, and have a ton of fun.
One second-grade teacher Stella Hernandez knows just how much this event means to her students, and her enthusiasm is obvious. “Excitement is in the air. The kids are jazzed about coming out and being a part of this activity,” she tells Babble.
Various stations were spread across Haddon’s playground and included obstacle courses, a javelin throwing corner, and a soccer skills clinic with members of the men’s soccer team from California State University, Northridge (CSUN).
All of the sports activities mirrored those played in the Special Olympics, with the same kind of equipment that the professional athletes use. While the kids played, Baucum could be heard passionately shouting over the loudspeaker, “Remember: we’re doing this to be inclusive, and have fun!”
As a Field Day participant, I got to encounter a bunch of cool moments, like helping second-grade special needs student Mauricio meet the assistant coach of the CSUN soccer team Jose Luis Garcia. When I found out Mauricio was dreaming of meeting a member of the team, I knew I had to introduce the two of them.
And aren’t they adorable together?!
And this was all in thanks to Baucum. Special Olympics Program Specialist Kim Villa attended Haddon’s Field Day and commends her organization of this important day. “This was Regina’s dream to do this, and it’s really a big undertaking,” she says.
Villa isn’t the only one singing Baucum’s praises. Haddon Principal Richard Ramos acknowledges her for being the sole reason the special education community has expanded as much as it has at the school. He commends her for going above and beyond the call of duty for Haddon students.
“Miss Baucum is a unique person. She’s done all of these integration efforts. If you come at recess or lunch, you’ll see our kids working with Miss Baucum’s kids, and that wasn’t happening prior to her arrival,” he tells Babble.
Ramos has a 59-year-old brother with special needs, so he completely understands just how important Baucum’s endeavors are for the Haddon community. His brother grew up going to school separately from him, and it was a lonely experience for both. “I saw that my brother was isolated. He didn’t go through the community schools,” Ramos says. “He would always get on the bus, leave, and then come back late. So as a principal, I immediately thought about my brother.”
He feels it’s important that parents reach out to their school community if they have a child with special needs who is being overlooked. For him, each and every kid matters. “I think it’s us that have to advocate for that inclusion. We’re doing it here at Haddon, thanks to Miss Baucum,” he says.
Baucum works with students with moderate to severe disabilities in grades K through second. “Most of them are very medically impacted and they have severe learning needs, but once you unlock that lock in their brain, they’re just like any other kid,” she tells Babble.
Baucum has taken this sentiment to heart as she works beyond her own classroom to empower and uplift the entire special needs community at Haddon — and with only two years of teaching special ed! She says her two children inspired her to seek out a special education career, as both of them have developmental disabilities.
“They have made me become the super advocate,” she tells Babble. “Seeing special education from two different sides of the spectrum, I know how my students’ parents feel. To have that same empathy makes our connection a lot better, because we’re all just like a family.”
She can also relate to her students, having attended resource classes for math and English lit as a child. She thanks one teacher in ninth grade for helping unlock her learning potential and encouraging her to fulfill her dreams. “From there on, I was in all AP Honors courses throughout high school. You just need that one teacher that will do the most for you,” she says.
Baucum has a lot more to celebrate beyond Field Day! All of her hard work has allowed Haddon to officially become a Special Olympics Unified Champion School. This esteemed title is the highest honor for any school that embraces educational equality, and is a beacon of hope for families with developmentally disabled children in the community.
It was a true privilege to witness a school so dedicated to making sure every single child belongs. And Regina Baucum is an inspiring force to be reckoned with in the special education community. Rock on Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy for leading the way to a kinder, more empathetic world!