Cheerleading inclusively Wethersfield HS - Sparkle Effect photoWhen she was 15, Sarah Cronk set up her community’s first inclusive cheerleading squad at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa. Now, at 18 she is the founder of The Sparkle Effect, which helps schools around the country to include boys and girls with disabilities in their dance teams and cheerleading squads.

While Pleasant Valley’s program is now in its 6th season and includes 21 students, Sarah’s national program has raised more than $150,000 and generated 65 inclusive squads across the country.

The “Sparkle Effect” teams are student-run. Both “regular” students and students with disabilities practice and perform as one team during school sporting events and pep rallies.

Interested students around the US can visit The Sparkle Effect website to obtain information on forming their own teams. There, they can find a step-by-step quick-start kit for creating a team, including practice tips, information on grants for uniforms, and free on-site training, all of which make starting an inclusive team easier.

The result? Students with disabilities experience true acceptance and gain confidence.

In July Sarah was named one of 15 “Huggable Heroes” by the Build-A-Bear Workshop, winning ten thousand dollars and earning a scholarship for herself, as well as $2,500 for her charity. In August 2011, Sarah won the $100,000 grand prize at the VH1 Do Something Awards.

Photo credit: Wethersfield HS Sparklies – Sparkle Effect photo

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