By Joel Hall
The children of Applegate Academy learned a valuable lesson about disabilities through the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) of Greater Georgia's 'Hop-a-Thon.'
On Friday, the Stockbridge preschoolers joined other children around the metro Atlanta area, jumping in place to generate funds to help children with the debilitating disease.
Peggy Hood, health care services coordinator for MDA of Greater Georgia, said that last year, 90 preschools in the Atlanta area participated in the Hop-a-Thon program.
She said the students were able to raise between $35,000 and $45,000 to purchase wheelchairs, leg braces, and sponsorships to send students to MDA of Greater Georgia's annual Camp Walk N' Roll in Rutledge, Ga.
Hood, however, said the purpose of the Hop-a-Thon goes beyond fund-raising, encompassing education and character development.
"I've been with MDA for 17 years, and we've been doing it the whole time," she said. "The idea behind the Hop-a-Thon is to educate the children on disability awareness and get them to understand that everybody is different, nobody is perfect, and really, try to encourage the idea in their mind that they can help. If you start early, you build a good volunteer."
Applegate Academy in Stockbridge is one of 200 metro Atlanta schools that has hosted, or will be hosting, Hop-a-Thon events this year, Hood said.
Throughout the week, preschoolers at Applegate Academy learned about muscular dystrophy through informative coloring books and learning exercises.
Children were also given the chance to attempt regular activities in a wheelchair, such as trying to enter a local McDonald's or enter a restroom.
After a week full of education and learning, students participated in the Hop-a-Thon, with parents pledging to donate a small amount to MDA for every hop counted.
Preschool Teacher Noel Vitale, who organized the event, said the children gained a new level of compassion and understanding for children living with disabilities.
"It is truly an educational experience," Vitale said. "They learned that children in wheelchairs can read and color. Even though they can't hop, they can do things like every other kid.
"They get exercise that counts. It's caring for others, it's social skills, and it's fun," Vitale said. "That's what learning is all about."
She said the academy would tally the pledged dollars from the Hop-a-Thon later this month.
Neal Jackson, a Jonesboro resident, whose son, Khalil, is a student at the academy, volunteered by counting the number of hops students executed on Friday. He said exposing children to public service early on will make them better citizens later in life.
"It's all about awareness," Jackson said. "They are very impressionable right now. If he sees me doing it, eventually, he'll do it with his kids. It's going to make him better ... Hopefully, that trend will continue."