Students take the lead at Mulberry Olympics

Daniel Magaña races with a small cup of water in his hand during a team relay event Friday morning at Mulberry Elementary School. Photo by Brett Miller.

BRAWLEY — Students in grades first through eighth competed in a variety of races and challenges Friday at Mulberry Elementary school. The three-day event, known as the Mulberry Olympics, is a long-time school tradition, and beyond being a fun and fitting celebration for another year completed, the competition is designed to foster cooperation across grades and provide leadership opportunities to the older students.

Priding itself as a “little school with a big heart”, Mulberry has hosted these contests for at least a quarter of a century. Rorie Edmondson participated in the Mulberry Olympics when she was enrolled as a child, and now teaches there. Edmondson served as the master of ceremonies for this year’s games and said she enjoyed seeing students continue the tradition.

“It’s neat to see them all support each other,” said Edmondson. “When we get down to the last teams, they’ll all start cheering for that last team.”

The games alternated between outdoor and indoor activities, ensuring the students did not get overheated in the sun. Some of the activities required the entire team to contribute; others required a few representatives. In one competition, the teams were given a very small cup of water to transport across a distance without spilling too much, with the first team to fill up a container winning. After the winner was announced, the teams took their containers to the school garden to water the plants.

Although the games required coordination, speed, and finesse, the make-up of the teams themselves provided an extra dimension of strategy. Each team had students from every grade level, meaning eighth graders and first graders had to cooperate effectively in order to succeed.

“We’ve gone to different events at different schools and that’s one thing that’s really noticeable about our kids,” Edmondson said. “They really all support each other.”

Since the nature of learning prompts schools to separate students according to grade level, children tend to bond only with those near their age. The Mulberry Olympics, however, provide students an opportunity to rub shoulders with those outside their normal circles, according to organizers. Younger children can look to older students as role models, and older students have a chance to take on the role of a leader.

Student Jennifer Lira found the diversity of ages in each of the teams a highlight of the week.

“One of my favorite parts is just how all the classes can come together and interact with everybody,” she said.

In fact, each of the teams were led by an upper grade student, although the teachers were not too far away at any given moment. But the eighth graders were responsible for organizing their team, selecting who would compete in a given race, and leading the team in encouraging their team’s representatives.

Chandel, an eighth grade student who led her team, said she enjoyed the opportunities provided by the games.

“They [provide] great leadership skills for the older kids as well as the younger kids, since we all have to work together,” she said.

Edmondson said she always finds herself impressed by how the older students demonstrate a resourcefulness not readily apparent in the classroom.

“When they get out here in charge of a group, it’s neat to see them blossom,” she admitted.

The event also left an impression on the students to exercise and stay healthy, whether they were racing against other teams, or enjoying an impromptu dance-off between the relays.

“Nowadays, everybody stays in their rooms,” Chandel noted.

“They would just lay on the couch, and – let’s put it in a nice way – they would get bigger,” suggested Lira. “I would encourage them to go outside for their health.”