Without a doubt, the 2020-21 school year has been unlike any other, and perhaps one of the most difficult our educators and students have ever experienced. Despite the challenges, many schools have quickly moved from in-person to virtual opportunities to continue to meet the needs of all students, including those with and without intellectual disabilities (ID).
Take, for example, Washington, DC-based Garfield Elementary School, which has hosted several virtual and fully inclusive school-wide events, including a Read Across America Day, a Women’s History Month assembly, a acceptance of autism and a few others. San Benito High School in California has been working to organize online sessions for their inclusive Circle of Friends club. These schools have gone above and beyond for their students. In recognition of their efforts and commitment to inclusion, these two unified Special Olympics® Champion Schools recently became National Banner Schools, meeting 10 National Standards of Excellence set by Special Olympics and the community of education.
This week, ESPN and Special Olympics rewarded Garfield Elementary School, San Benito High School and three other schools with special celebrations. Of all schools (listed here) for recognition this year, these five schools are honored as ESPN’s Top 5 for Going Beyond Inclusion.
California: San Benito High School
San Benito High School is based in Northern California and has worked diligently to create classrooms and a school climate of acceptance. “San Benito High School has been a leader in providing inclusive programming for its students for many years. They have gone above and beyond to provide countless opportunities for their students in the three components of the Unified Champion Schools program. and created a school culture with meaningful inclusion at the forefront, ”said Heather Jones, Vice President, School and Youth Services, Special Olympics Northern California & Nevada.
For example, their inclusive Circle of Friends campus club was established 11 years ago and promotes an environment of acceptance and inclusion for all students through daily lunch meetings. The club hosts annual events, such as an inclusive prom and participates in school-wide events including club information day, reunion parade, lunchtime Baler – BLT (an activity where clubs sell food to students). They also have their own category of dance royalties and regularly collaborate with Associated Student Body for events, to name a few.
Louisiana: Tulane University
Only a few years after its inception, the Special Olympics Club at Tulane University is having a major impact on campus and students. The school had a total of 35 multisport athletes who regularly participated in athletic programs including unified tennis, flag football, yoga and swimming throughout the 2020-2021 school year. “The blessing of being involved with Special Olympics is one of the greatest moments of our college career. The opportunity to work with these incredible athletes is inspiring. However, the lifelong friendships developed from our time together are the greater treasure and made us better people, ”said a student from the Special Olympics Club at Tulane University.
Additionally, their Unified Club hosts and performs the annual Unified Tulane vs LSU (Dental) basketball game.
Michigan: Waverly High School
“I love to see relationships that start in school and extend outside of school,” said Natalie Queen, a teacher at Waverly High School. “I love the way our students, athletes and partners play different roles, and they have no differences, they all have unique abilities that they draw from each other and from their strengths.” She is very proud of the recognition and of all the work accomplished at the school.
Waverly High School, located in the state capital of Lansing, has outstanding Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams who participate in training and competitions throughout the year, including unified basketball, flag football , indoor hockey, bowling and many more. They have trained and competed in the Unified Flag Football State Finals at the Michigan Special Olympics State Finals and at the Michigan High School Athletic Association State Championship Unified Sporting Exhibitions. In addition, their Unified Club oversees the planning, organization and execution of their General Assembly with the participation of the Unified Cheerleaders and the Inclusive Choir.
New Jersey: New Jersey Regional Day School
New Jersey Regional Day is a specialty school for children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) whose goal is to provide evidence-based, individualized education to students with multiple disabilities. The school hosts annual inclusive Black History Month celebrations where students spend the month learning about cultures and prominent personalities. Students prepare presentations and performances including poems, biographies, skits, songs and artwork with all members of the school invited to participate and attend the event. “The students had more opportunities to have meaningful social interactions with their peers in Newark City. Students’ confidence, as well as their self-reliance skills, has improved since the implementation of the Unified Champion Schools program, ”said Garrett Rothschild. , New Jersey regional teacher.
New Jersey Regional Day students also participated in a district-wide Autism Awareness Month campaign, where they wrote poetry, presented artwork, and sang songs, both in a choir and solo. These activities were highlighted at the climactic celebration hosted by the Newark Board of Education Office of Special Education, district-wide event.
Washington, DC: Garfield Elementary School
Garfield Elementary School, known for its accomplishments and efforts to foster the socio-emotional growth of all students, is recognized this year. Several inclusive student clubs / groups at the school have come together during the 2020-2021 school year, including the Georgetown University School of Medicine Future Doctors Program which pairs students with and without coin. identity to a first year medical student at Georgetown University. The sessions focused on leadership in STEM and health with activities such as team building, communication and science education. “I am incredibly proud of Garfield Elementary School for all the hard work that students and administrators have done to build a school where inclusion is the way of life,” said Anthony Sokenu, senior director of initiatives for the youth, Special Olympics DC
The school also participated in their College Tribe – a youth development club that uses socio-emotional learning (SEL) and STEM education to provide hands-on learning opportunities for male students in grades 3 through the 5th year. The group met virtually during the previous school year and participated in activities aimed at building SEL and STEM skills through the creation of robots.