Jankoski’s work makes inclusion a priority

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Izzy Swanson

Eric Janikoski has been a leader in the Inclusion movement at Baldwin Highschool.

Izzy Swanson, News Editor

While coaching his son’s Little League team one day, Eric Jankoski realized that not every child gets the opportunity to experience such normal, everyday activities.

That thought has led Jankoski to get involved in both Baldwin’s Best Buddies and Special Olympics programs, which he runs with physical education teacher Tim Laughlin, as well as a number of related projects.

“I’ve tried to make it my mission to provide students with as many opportunities as I can, so I can support them and give them the chance to experience the same stuff that anybody else would. It may be in a different way, but it’s an overall similar experience,” Jankoski said. 

Jankoski works as the transition coordinator for special education at Baldwin. He also works part-time for Special Olympics PA, and is the unified champions schools coordinator, a position that oversees other schools’ special education unified bocce programs, whole school engagement and youth leadership programs.

Jankoski volunteered with the Special Olympics program while he was in high school. Later, while attending Duquesne University, he began his first job at a childcare center for children with special needs. 

Janksoski soon realized that he wanted to pursue a career in special education. 

“I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but it was through these experiences that I decided to spearhead Special Olympics and add special education to it.”

Jankoski’s hope is that no child with a disability ever feels like an outsider. To help accomplish this, Jankoski has introduced the Best Buddies program.

While Special Olympics gets students involved in physical activities and sports, the Best Buddies program aims to promote inclusion and social interaction for all students, giving everyone a chance to make new friends. The “buddies” text and talk with each other, and before the pandemic, they would go to movies and other events together. 

Jankoski has helped to also tie in Baldwin’s Best Buddies and Special Olympics programs with participation in programs like the Miracle League of the South Hills, a baseball league that features wheelchair accessible dugouts and a flat, rubberized surface for accessibility for all players. Many of the Best Buddies and Special Olympics Club students participate in the program as buddies or athletes, and Jankoski manages a team in the non-competitive division.

He also raised nearly $6,000 in a fundraiser to help raise awareness of the Best Buddies program through the 2020 Virtual Champion of the Year Event and to raise money so that other schools can start such programs. Jankoski is known around the district for his beard, so he pledged to shave it after the fundraiser.

The beard will be shaved on Saturday. While Jankoski originally envisioned letting a lucky donor to his fundraiser shave his beard, due to the pandemic, his wife and children will be doing the shaving. 

“It was a combination of (former Steeler) Brett Keisel’s idea and just the fact that everyone always gives me a hard time about when I’m going to shave it, so I thought I’d make it worthwhile,” Janksoki said. 

Janksoski also runs the Baldwin Bean coffee shop, which provides employment training to students in the school’s Partners program. The coffee shop has not been open yet this school year, due to social distancing issues, but organizers hope to open sometime this year.

One goal of all of these programs is to teach all students the value of inclusion, as junior Abby McCullough pointed out.

 “Helping out at the Baldwin Bean and being a part of Special Olympics has definitely allowed me to meet new people and open my eyes to the importance of inclusion,” McCullough said. 

Senior Makenzie Auel agreed.

“Best Buddies has definitely taght me to be appreciative of what I have and to always find ways to include everyone,” Auel said. 

Laughlin, who works with Jankoski on Special Olympics and other programs, attributes their success to Jankoski’s tireless work on behalf of inclusion.

“Since Mr. J came to the high school, he has made a tremendous impact in our school and community,” Laughlin said. “He has a passion for helping individuals feel included. He has a great ability to communicate to others and find solutions to things rather than roadblocks.”

Not only does Jankoski teach Baldwin students the importance of inclusion, but he has worked hard to teach his own children those same values. Both of his kids participate in Best Buddies and Special Olympics.

“My kids are a big motivation for what I do. I want them to be very inclusive, open, and accepting, and to not see anyone for any differences,” Jankoski said.