Almost 300 Santas and elves boogied with the Breakfast Club at Webb City Junior High School cafeteria before Christmas break, celebrating fa-la-la and good will over homemade biscuits and gravy. Mrs. Claus, the Grinch and other festive folk feted costumed kids at the club’s weekly breakfast meeting that promotes friendship and inclusivity. It was a morning of board games, music and kids hanging out.
At one table, Urijah Hampton, 13, was holding court with his buddies, plugged into the beat of the Christmas spirit. Urijah says little but his joie de vivre speaks volumes.
“Christmas is extra special with special needs kids,” said Laniey Mahurin, 12, seated next to Urijah. “It makes it so much fun.”
“I like making friends with people,” Mahurin said, “who may be different.”
The Breakfast Club is a school club that furthers friendship and involvement between special needs students and other students. It ranks among the recognized activities and programs that earned WCJHS the honor of being named a National Banner Unified Champion School by the National Special Olympics.
The club is part of the school’s best practices to merge general education students with those with disabilities. Kristin Huff, special education teacher, started the club with 30 kids last year. The club numbered 297 last week.
As such, this junior high is a bellwether for other schools in addressing issues of inclusion and friendship for special needs students within the larger framework of the students, school, staff and community.
Webb City Junior High is one of only five schools in Missouri to be selected as a National Banner Unified School. And it is the first junior high in Missouri to receive the award.
“Together we can do great things,” Huff said. “You belong here.”
“We started out because our kids were having difficulty making friends at the school, so we invited some kids to eat breakfast once a week and it’s grown from there,” Huff said.
“We have gone from our students staying in the classroom, not knowing anybody, to them walking down the hall with kids yelling their names, giving them high fives, and inviting them to birthday parties.
“We’re trying to make sure every kid feels included and that they belong at school,” she said.
A stampede of nearly 300 students hurry to check in to enjoy the last Breakfast Club before Christmas.
Webb City is among 205 schools nationwide comprising the 2023 Class of National Banner Unified Champion Schools.
Such champion schools demonstrate a commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community. Primary activities within these standards include Special Olympics Unified Sports (where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates), Inclusive Youth Leadership and Whole-School Engagement.
Banner Unified Champion Schools should also be able to demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have plans to sustain their activities in the future.
Emma Thomas, Unified Champion Schools senior manager for Special Olympics Missouri in Jefferson City, said the state organization supports high schools, middle schools and elementary schools with implementing the Unified Champion Schools inclusiveness strategy.
The goal of that strategy is to create opportunities on an ongoing basis for students with and without intellectual disabilities to build relationships.
Thomas commends WCJHS, which will be formally recognized with a National Banner Celebration during the second annual Webb City Night of Unity on Monday, Jan. 22.
“Webb City Junior High School is an incredibly inclusive place and so deserving of this recognition because their students and staff have demonstrated commitment to promoting inclusion and fostering a sense of belonging for everyone,” Thomas said.
“WCJHS students with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities are engaged in implementing unified sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement in a way that is making a sustainable difference in the culture on their campus and models best practices for other schools across the state.
“We couldn’t be prouder,” Thomas said.
Although Christmas passes quickly, the Breakfast Club’s daily miracles of high fives, howdy’s and invites decks the school halls throughout the year. Where once upon a time, the Urijah’s of the world may have been marginalized, they are now welcomed into this student body of humanity and friendship.
“It’s really amazing as a parent with special needs kids to have them involved with students who know who they are, and that they are not stuck in the classroom, but are part of the school and their community with their peers,” said Shaun Hampton, father of Urijah, and his brother, Lincoln, 14.
“Both my sons attended the Breakfast Club. They loved the inclusiveness and joy of being recognized and feeling a part of,” Hampton said.
“When my younger son started, he said a few words, ‘yes or no’. Then one or two words turned into three, four or five, and then they turned into full sentences,” Hampton said.
“We can’t go out anywhere without him being recognized,” he added.
A myriad of groups form to play games while music blasts during Breakfast Club.