in partnership
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Sparkle Squad is a cheer squad at Mercer Island High School. The teens (with and without disabilities) work together and cheer at games, assemblies, parades and special events in the community. Jami Blumenstein is their coach. (Image Jeff Pimentel /Sparkle Squad)

Sparkle Squad: Mercer Island's unified cheerleaders are committed to inclusion

It's the day before a big football game and the Sparkles are putting the finishing touches on their routine.

But this is no ordinary cheer squad - it's an extraordinary one.

"Sparkle Squad is at Mercer Island High School. We are a cheer squad that cheers along with the Mercer Island cheerleaders," said Jami Blumenstein, the Sparkle Squad Coach. "We have cheerleaders with and without disabilities that work together and cheer at games, assemblies, parades, and all kinds of special events in the community."

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Everyone has a favorite thing about being a part of this group, and parents of the kids have nothing but positive things to say about the Sparkle Squad.

"The inclusion. I mean as a parent of a special needs child that's kind of one of the things you fear the most - that your child is going to be on the outside of everything," said Ann Johnson, mother of Mckenzie, a special needs Sparkle. "These kids embrace her and want her to be included in everything and call her and want to hang out. That part has been a huge blessing for us."

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Other parents have talked about how their children have blossomed since joining the squad.

"It's been the greatest program that you could imagine," said Jeff Pimentel, the father of Jeremy. "[It's special to see] when you have a son with special needs that's really shy, introverted, and when I come out to the school and he's walking down the hall way ahead of me and everybody is high-fiving him."

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As for the squad - when they cheer together at the game, these students do much more than sparkle. They also shine. Beam. Glow. Their light and their love for one another is illuminating.

"This is my third year as a sparkle coach and I get a lot of joy and pleasure out of seeing all the kids come together, make friendships, and grow with their confidence," said Blumenstein.