Johnston's Brown Avenue students 'pay to pour' for Special Olympics RI



Eliot Sarli stepped on the tiny stool, steadied on each side by a familiar teacher.

Together they lifted a heavy bucket filled with ice water over the head of Brown Avenue School Principal Helina Dlugon.

Sarli, a third-grader, giggled and grinned. Last Wednesday, he was the king of the school, having raised more than any other student toward the school’s own version of “The Polar Plunge” called “Pay to Pour.”

The school had hoped to raise $1,000 to help increase awareness for Special Olympics RI.

Sarli, as the school’s top student fundraiser, had his choice of five faculty members. He raised more than $1,200 on his own, and chose the school’s fearless leader as his ice water target.

Teachers Amanda Sloan and Bryana Ruisi helped Sarli hoist the bucket high. Dlugon gasped. And The final pour of the day swept over the school’s top administrator, who smiled and struggled to sweep the water from her eyes.

Math Interventionist Cindy Joyce helped to compile some notes on the Brown Avenue Polar Plunge.

Joyce and the rest of the school’s Inclusion Core Team, which includes Dlugon, faculty members Deana Lavoie and Amanda Sloan, and Special Olympics Team Member Tanya Creamer, have been working toward becoming a Unified Champion School, through a partnership with the Special Olympics of Rhode Island (SORI). 

“In becoming a Unified Champion School, faculty and students are promoting social inclusion by bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities through sports and other activities,” according to SORI.

“This is a distinction very few elementary schools have,” Dlugon reminded her students as they gathered outside the school at 2 p.m. last Wednesday.

The students sat grouped by classroom and grade. Those who helped raise money received a cup. As each class was called, the students stood in line, dipping their cups into large buckets of ice water.

Five faculty member sat nervously waiting in a row of chairs. Each wore a transparent plastic poncho, which did little to shield them from the imminent soaking barrage.

According to the school’s Inclusion Core Team, the faculty and students have been striving to create a culture of inclusion throughout the building.

Their ultimate goal is to cultivate a school “where everyone feels loved, accepted, and valued” and “differences are celebrated.”

“To accomplish this,  we’ve created a Brown Ave Unified Student Leadership Team, a Partner-Buddy Program during recess and physical education classes, as well as many lessons that teach, encourage, and celebrate everyone's individual uniqueness,” according to a statement from the Inclusion Core Team. “A handful of the fifth-grade students use their recess time to partner with our life skills students to help encourage and work on basic sport skills. And, the students and staff recently worked on celebrating each other's uniqueness by highlighting everyone's strengths, interests, and character traits through a school puzzle piece displayed on the school bulletin board. Students and Staff are learning the value of celebrating everyone's differences and by doing so, together, we make everyone stronger.”

With the school’s young population, the team decided to modify a time-honored Special Olympics event by creating “Pay to Pour.”

The more you raised for the cause, the more water you scored to pour.

“Students who donated over $50 were able to also pour a large pitcher of water over a staff member's head,” according to the rules. “The student who donated the largest amount of money to the fundraiser was able to pour a large bucket of ice water over a faculty/staff volunteer of their choosing.”

Students sat quietly, holding signs declaring their support for inclusion. A low rumble of talking and giggling was quickly brought under control with a little counting by one staff member, who’s voice quickly got everyone’s attention.

The school day had just ended. The sun was shining. And teachers were about to get doused.

Dlugon stood in front of the students to deliver the day’s “Pay to Pour” instructions.

Suddenly, a spontaneous chant erupted from the collective student body:

“Dump that water! Dump that water! Dump that water!”

The first four victims — some of the school’s favorite teachers — took their seats. And then, to add an additional surprise, Dlugon donned a ponch and joined the soon-to-be soggy educators.

“What's so amazing is that many Brown Avenue students shared that they were donating their own allowance, Tooth Fairy money, lemonade stand money, etc.,” Joyce wrote. “Many students asked family members for donations. We are so proud of our Brown Avenue Students. These kids are beyond generous, full of love, and want to raise awareness for Special Olympics RI and more importantly, want their school to be known for its inclusive culture.”

All together, Joyce said the “Brown Avenue Family” raised more than $4,800 for SORI.


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