LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Timothy McDonald

Position: Retiring Adapted Physical Education Teacher
School: Oak Park Elementary School District #97
School District: Oak Park Elementary School District #97
City, State: Oak Park, IL

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Timothy McDonald was nominated by his friend, Karen Reed.

"Mr. Timothy McDonald is affectionately known as Mr. Tim in the gym by many of his students. His selfless work ethic, passion for his work, and his 'why' are the reasons I decided to nominate him for this award," said Reed. "From my first time meeting him in the gym as he facilitated Special Olympics basketball, I instantly became a fan. I have had the privilege of knowing Mr. Tim for 7 years, and his excitement about his students, their progress, and development is undoubtedly refreshing. He's always with a smile, enthusiasm, and full of optimism. He speaks and engages on a level that encourages participation and connectivity from students, parents, and the community. Even during the pandemic, Mr. Tim found creative and adaptable platforms to foster an educational and athletic environment, and always with a big smile and encouraging words."

When Mr. Tim graduated college, he served as an accountant for three years before changing careers. He has been an adapted physical education teacher for Oak Park District 97 since August 2010. In his current role, he designs physical education programs for students with disabilities.

In 2011, Mr. Tim assisted with starting up Special Olympics in his district. All of the teams are unified, which means that they include athletes with and without disabilities. There are seven different Special Olympics sporting teams offered to students in grades Pre-K through 8, and the teams include peer coaches (peers without disabilities).

Mr. Tim also assisted with starting Oak Park's polar plunge team. Over 100 Oak Parkers (students/staff/families) plunged into the 34 degree-Lake Michigan water in February 2020. Oak Park knocked off the 7-time defending champ (Lyons Township High School) and was the first place fundraiser, raising $44,382 for Special Olympics IL. 

Mr. Tim co-leads the annual Battle of the Badges event every April, where Oak Park's fire and police departments play a fun basketball game against each other alongside Special Olympics athletes from Oak Park.  The whole community comes out and packs the gym!

In recent years, Mr. Tim has worked with Brooks Middle School design teachers to help build devices that students with disabilities can use during physical education class. They have made several button-activated devices that students can use to shoot a ball six feet in the air to a partner, push a ball down a bowling ramp, or kick a ball into a goal. He and his colleagues also have the middle school design class create and build devices that are used during elementary adapted P.E. classes.

In 2018 and 2020, Mr. Tim assisted Julian Middle School and Irving Elementary School, respectively, with earning National Banner status. This program recognizes schools that promote inclusive opportunities and have unified P.E. classes/Special Olympics sporting programs. These are rare recognitions. In the state of Illinois, Irving was one of only three new National Banner Schools in 2020, and the only new elementary school that year.

Since remote learning started in March 2020, Mr. Tim has made many videos to help connect with students/families. He and his students exercise to these videos during virtual adapted P.E. classes.

Mr. Tim also assists in leading an annual Respect Campaign at three Oak Park schools where students do different activities to promote inclusion. All students sign a banner pledging not to use the "R" word. The staff share a video with the whole school about inclusion, hold quizzes around the school, and send out groups of students who lead discussions in classrooms about the importance of inclusion.

Finally, as part of this year's Special Olympics IL program, Mr. Tim co-led a virtual culminating event for all Young Athletes programs in the whole state. Young Athletes is for students ages 3 through 9 and is the lead-up to Special Olympics sporting programs as students get older. Fifty schools in Illinois have Young Athletes and are invited to the event, which is similar to the end of year Olympic field day.