MSDE Team Photo at Polar Bear Plunge Cool Schools Challenge 2019

An unusually rainy, windy January day did nothing to deter young Polar Plunge-goers at the 2019 Maryland State Police Polar Plunge Cool Schools Challenge, held at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, Maryland.

On Thursday, January 24th, students from across Maryland braved the cold Bay in support of Special Olympics Maryland. Assistant State Superintendent Marcella Franczkowski, representing the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) Division of Early Intervention and Special Education Services, addressed the attendees at the event.

Assistant State Superintendent Marcella Franczkowski addressing attendees at Polar Bear Plunge Cool Schools Challenge 2019

Marcella praised the challenge as an exemplary opportunity open without reservation to, and ably providing assistance for, all students. “It’s a very special day, because what I see here when I come is students with intellectual disabilities, with their teachers, their coaches, their support systems, where everybody is the same — and where all opportunities are realized, and disability is not the identifier. The work of everyone here, making sure that all of our students are meaningfully engaged in their community, are respected members of their communities… it’s not just being included, but it’s having access to an opportunity that will produce outcomes.”

A network of tents protected students from the weather as, in shifts, schools made their way down the beach to take the plunge. Music blared and video projections dotted the central hub, with plenty of food and drink available from trucks and catered by sponsors. The Maryland State Police made their protective presence felt with plenty of security and lifeguards as safety divers formed a line chest-deep into a designated area of surf for student safety and boats drifted up and down the shoreline behind. Katy Marchman, who normally travels with aid of a wheelchair, asked her mother Kimberly for assistance in getting into the waves. Paul Miller from MSDE volunteered and helped Kimberly move Katy to the waterline, where mother and daughter strode into the waves with no fear.

“The work of Special Olympics Maryland has opened a world of opportunity, acceptance and meaningful inclusion not limited by disability,” Marcella said, discussing the Maryland State Department’s 12-year partnership with Special Olympics Maryland. “It’s where all truly means all, where every person is valued for who they are, for their personal skills and talents.”

MSDE team plunging into the water at Polar Bear Plunge Cool Schools Challenge 2019

Marcella said the Division of Early Intervention and Special Education Services put words into action not only through their donation to Special Olympics Maryland, but also through division team members who volunteered to join in the challenge. And despite the driving rain, Marcella marched onto the beach ready with towels for MSDE members Sherea Makle, Lisa Sparr and Paul Miller who plunged — several times — into the bracing winter waves.

View more photos from the event.