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Many children and teenagers with intellectual and physical disabilities fear not fitting in.
But at Southside Middle School in Florence, South Carolina, these students can stand out, shout, cheer, clap and call as much attention to themselves as they want.
It's all possible through The Sparkle Effect, an initiative the school recently started. The program connects students with and without disabilities through cheerleading.
"This is perfect for our school,” cheer coach Kimberly Matthews-Robinson told WBTW. “You want to give them an opportunity to truly connect with typically developing teens."
Twenty-three percent of the students at Southside are special needs students, according to the school's principal, Craig Washington.
"They are a very important part of our school culture," he told WBTW.
Participants in the program have the opportunity to practice together and to perform at halftime shows during the girls’ basketball games.
The team performed for the second time Wednesday night.
“They can interact. They can hug. The children and kids embrace them,” said Talisha Cooper, whose daughter Kennedi participates in the program.
"Really one of our goals is for them to realize that we are all the same," said teacher Miriam Fulghum.
Southside is the first and only school in the state of South Carolina involved with the programs. School officials hope to spread it throughout the district.