A club that combines general and special education students is hosting a cold-water plunge this week to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics Minnesota.
The Cool School Plunge is being put on by the Unified Club at Discovery Middle School, and is open to students and staff members from 1-3:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18, at the school. Approximately 200 students and 10 staff members will participate in the plunge.
"It's a really cool thing to have this event," said Lukas Gotto, adviser of the Unified Club, "because we want to help raise awareness on special education."
Gotto said 21 teams will participate in the plunge. The teams will include members of athletic teams from Discovery and Alexandria Area High School, music and drama members, and the Unified Club, among others.
The club has already raised $16,000 in donations. Fifty percent will go to Special Olympics MN, 35 percent will go to the athletic department at the high school, and the remaining 15 percent will go to the Unified Club.
The plunge, one of 21 benefiting Special Olympics statewide, will not be in one of the area's many lakes. An Alexandria company, Pro-Tainer, Inc., is constructing a portable plunge site on the north side of the middle school.
What is the Unified Club
The Unified Club was started last January to establish friendships and social interaction between students in special education and general education.
"The goal is to help students with needs and bring them together with general education students," Gotto said. "What we try to do is plan out activities that will help them engage with each other and build connections."
He said the club has more than 35 members who take part twice a week in after-school activities such as kickball, dodgeball, outdoor sledding, bowling and visiting the Humane Society.
"We do not have any unified sports teams at the moment, and that is the next step we want to take," Gotto said. "But we're heading into that direction because we have enough kids who are involved."
Student requirements include not having poor grades in any class, and working with special education teachers to set class standards.
"Ten of our students would assist with special education teachers and do occupational therapy with them," Gotto said. "It's another way that we try to build connections with each other."
Gotto plans to make this an annual event.
"The first one is always the hardest because this is something new for everybody," he said. "By next year, we hope that it can get bigger so that way we can bring in different teams and pull more contributions."
Gotto said that he is delighted about how the event, which will be live-streamed on the school's website, is turning out and hopes that it can give the Unified Club exposure for the community.
"The kids have responded super well," he said. "Everyone is excited about it for the right reasons, and everyone will have a good time."
To donate, go to https://plungemn.org/events/alexandria-cool-school/