The Cool Schools Challenge provides students with an opportunity to make a difference in thousands of lives.
On Thursday, January 25, roughly 2,500 school-age kids will be excused from class to plunge into the icy Chesapeake Bay two days before the Polar Bear Plunge.
The Cool Schools Challenge differs from the Polar Bear Plunge in that it is only for schools and students, said Meghan Wilson, a senior director of special events at Special Olympics Maryland (SOMD).
Any school from any county can participate.
While Polar Bear Plunge participants have to raise a minimum of $75, Cool Schools Challenge participants need to raise a minimum of $50.
In the past, teams have done creative fundraisers such as penny wars, class wars and making a teacher plunge, Wilson said.
Schools that raise a minimum of $3,000 will be reimbursed up to $500 for buses to bring the team to and from the Plunge.
“It really depends how big the team is, as they all set their individual [fundraising] goals,” Wilson said. “There’s not really one specific tried and true way on fundraising. Every team just kind of does their thing differently depending on how the team captain is organizing it and how big the school is.”
The schools’ teams vary in size, ranging anywhere from 10 to 300 people, Wilson said. Schools can set up teams however they choose, whether it be individual classes or the entire school participating on the same team.
South River High School in Edgewater has raised more than $250,000 for Special Olympics Maryland, and according to special education teacher Mary Kokosko, South River is the only school that has participated each year.
“At South River, our mission is to reach out to our community and make a difference,” Kokosko said. “Knowing that the money and the awareness we raise for SOMD benefits individuals with disabilities right here in our community is extremely important to us. Our unified bowling, tennis and bocce teams are some of our most popular teams in the school. When I ask students what motivates them to jump into the chilly bay, they tell me that raising money for SOMD is important because all individuals should be able to compete in events, challenge themselves, be a part of a team and have fun regardless of ability.”
Another big contributor to the event is Magothy River Middle School.
“We have a proud tradition of participating in the Cool Schools Polar Bear Plunge here at Magothy River Middle School,” said Bryan Godfrey, who teaches physical education and health. “We take great pride in giving back to our community and those who are less fortunate, so we are thrilled to be able to support the Special Olympics every year through this event.”
Deb Cameron oversees the team, which raised just under $9,000 by the second week of January. “Our students and faculty couldn't be more excited for this year’s Plunge and are anticipating another strong year of fundraising after finishing as the top fundraising middle school in Maryland for the 2017 Plunge!”
With more than $9,300, Arundel Middle School was the second-highest fundraiser as of January 10. "We want all students to be included and raise awareness of the Special Olympics," said Zachary Jones, the school's science department chair. "Citizenship is one of our key pillars for our school, and this is an example of students showing and supporting citizenship."
The Cool Schools Challenge is the only plunge taking place on Thursday. Students arrive at the park starting at 9:30am, and the plunge is at noon. The park usually clears out around 1:00pm.
Though it takes place before the Polar Bear Plunge, the festival tent is still open with limited vendors, Wilson said.
There will be a band, a photo booth and other activities. The Maryland State Police will also attend. Vendors include a pizza truck, a dessert truck and the Greene Turtle.
“Special Olympics funds all of the unified sports programs, so without having major funding sources like the Cool Schools Challenge, we wouldn’t be able to fund unified sports,” Wilson said.
There isn’t a cutoff date, so schools can register online at www.plungmd.com at any time.