Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Special Olympics Romania has used both dedication and creativity to keep engagement levels high. Amidst school closures and long-term disruptions to in-person activities, the Program has focused on organizing Unified activities to engage the full school population, regardless of the setting.
As part of the global expansion of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® funded by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), Special Olympics Romania recently proved that even a simple idea can make a big difference. The Program organized an event that brought together people from all over the country—both virtually and in-person—and showed that if entire communities can come together on one belief, then they will create a powerful message.
On International Down Syndrome Day (21 March), Special Olympics Romania coordinated with 100 schools in 16 counties to spread awareness about Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities.
Students and educators at Unified Champion Schools wore mismatched socks of all colors as a fun way to celebrate people who are different. By dressing in a way that many people typically don’t, educators used this visual example as a tool to educate students on intellectual disabilities.
Called “Socksy Day,” the event brought together over 12,000 students, educators, and supporters from across the country. Students with and without intellectual disabilities participated in activities, schools shared content on social media with the hashtag #BeSocksy, and communities learned about Down syndrome.
Special Olympics Romania provided materials and resources to Unified Champion Schools—such as posters, fact sheets, and even socks—to ensure successful implementation.
Leonita Boghiu, a kindergarten teacher at a Unified Champion School in Bacău County, said even though her students are young, she was impressed by their enthusiasm and empathy.
“I explained to my students what Down syndrome means, why unpaired socks are the symbol of this day, and how to show solidarity with people with Down Syndrome… I’m convinced that many understood that differences between people are normal and should be accepted,” said Leonita.
Educators at special schools also used Socksy Day to spread awareness, whether it was connecting with mainstream schools or celebrating with each other in the classroom. Cătălina Mârşiu, a teacher at a special school in Galați County, was proud how the event brought a focus to some of her students.
“These types of events draw attention and make people aware that there are more people who deserve our attention and acceptance,” said Cătălina.
She hopes the Socksy Day can inspire communities to include people with disabilities more.
“Our students with disabilities are very pleased to be accepted. It remains [up to] those around them to open their arms and embrace them,” said Cătălina.
Socksy Day also gave students without intellectual disabilities an opportunity to learn from people who are different from them. Elena, an 11th grade student in Bacău County, traveled with classmates to a special school and participated in activities with students there. She formed a bond with Mihăiță, a student with Down syndrome, and said it was an experience she won’t forget.
“I liked that my classmates, who don’t necessarily volunteer, learned something about inclusion and people with special needs,” said Elena. “Some are [now] motivated to do something for the society in which we all live together.”
Lastly, Socksy Day encouraged students with intellectual disabilities to celebrate one another.
Maria, a 7th grade athlete in Galați County, liked how something as simple as unpaired socks sparked a conversation about Down Syndrome and intellectual disabilities. “I felt good and important when I saw children from other schools be involved, and I took pictures together with my fellow youth leader Mariana, who has Down Syndrome,” said Maria.
Vasilian, a 19-year-old athlete leader in Bacău County, expressed how himself and other friends with intellectual disabilities felt happy that so many people joined Socksy Day. “I realized there are many people who support us, appreciate our efforts, and accept us as we are, different but equal,” said Vasilian.
Special Olympics Romania was encouraged by the success of Socksy Day. It accomplished their goal to spread awareness among entire school populations in a way that’s both relatable and engaging. They hope the message of Socksy Day inspires students and educators of all abilities, and that the number of supporters for inclusion continues to grow.