Originally Nov. 9, 2021 by the Niagara Gazette.
By Joe Genco
Matt Ceccato found a fountain of joy at Niagara Falls High School. The senior used to see special education students near his locker and say hi but never gave it another thought because he wasn't in the same classes and didn't know them.
Then he got involved in “Stronger Together” — the school’s unified physical education program.
“I love it,” he says. “It brightens up your day to see them happy. They are the best because of how they brighten anyone’s day. It made this school a good place to come to.”
Sal Constantino runs the program. He used to be boys varsity basketball coach.
“I did my whole varsity basketball program but it didn’t come close to this,” he said. "Watching these kids is 10 times more fascinating. The kids, the faces, how happy we are. We had a rough opening to the school year. We own that. This is what’s happening here most of the time."
The program pairs students like Ceccato and Madison Whisnant with students they might not get to know, helping them feel loved and included.
“We play basketball and bowling,” Whisnant said. “It’s a way of giving back to the community.”
Whisnant said she plans to study aeronautical engineering next year. Ceccato hopes to pursue sports management.
Constantino is excited by the success to the program, which is a student-driven testament to a positive learning environment.
The program has about 100 partners and athletes.
“A lot of schools have trouble finding partners,” he said. “We have an abundance of them. We don’t win as many games but our kids are really winning."
Matt Leo, another phys ed teacher said the program has grown exponentially over the last three years.
“It breaks down barriers,” he said. “We have more and more students who want to be partners. We want them to be leaders in the building. We have great partners.”