Special needs students included in cheer program

October 5, 2012 3:41:54 PM PDT
At a time when bullying among teenagers is a constant in the news, there is a story of acceptance and inclusion Friday night.

At North Penn High School in Lansdale, students have embraced a group of "special" members of the cheerleading squad.

It is all part of the school's "Dream-Catchers" program.

There are five special needs girls from Pennbrook Middle School and North Penn High School who are on the cheerleading squad.

All five are physically or mentally challenged.

Cheerleading was new to Maude, a 9th grader, who arrived in this country from Liberia three years ago, suffering from famine and starvation.

"They treat me nice," said Maude Mengle-O'Connell. "The first time I came here, they started to like me, because as soon as I came, they started to smile."

"She's a survivor, a war orphan," said Donna Mengle, Maude's adoptive mother. "And she's lost family in the war, so this is all beautiful to her."

Shannon Dwyer, who has a rare over-growth disorder, adores the girls and her coach.

"I love seeing Coach Cookie every day in practice. She just cheers me up," said Shannon.

"I felt that there was a need for them to be included in everything in the school," said Cookie McGowan.

"It has changed her life, and it changed our lives," said Wendy Dwyer.

These "special" cheerleaders have been fully embraced by the other girls.

"When they come into the gym for practice, they just brighten our mood," said cheerleader squad captain Amelia Sisko. "They come in with smiles."

No one loves cheering more than Melissa Older, and no one is more enthusiastic about it than Rachael Grace.

"I just love it because it means a lot to me," said Rachel. "I also want to make a shout out to all my family and to the entire squad."

The girls cheer at all basketball and football games.


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