Across the country there are many Unified Champion Schools that work towards promoting a vision of inclusion in a variety of different settings. These schools aim towards offering sport, fitness, and health activities in a way that unites individuals with and without disabilities. There are many goals with these objectives, the main one being to promote an inclusive school and community environment, that embraces the differences and things that make us alike in our day to day journey. This article will hopefully give you an introduction to what being a unified champion school means, and how your school can get involved.
What is a Unified Champion School?
As mentioned above, a Unified Champion School is a school that embraces the idea of using sport, fitness, and health to create an inclusive environment for individuals with and without disabilities. This is done to break down barriers communication barriers between individuals with and without disabilities, to pull down some of the stigma associated with these individuals. The program itself, is sanctioned through Special Olympics, and is constantly growing its reach across the nation. Since Special Olympics is primarily focused on sports, fitness, and health, this is the primary way that they promote inclusion through the Unified Champion School model. The model that Special Olympics uses when having schools join as a Unified Champion School consists of three main parts. These parts include
- Unified Sports
- Youth Leadership & Advocacy
- Whole-School Engagement
Let’s take a look at what makes up each of these different parts.
I will be completely honest, when I first heard of Unified Sports, I was attending college at the University of Iowa. I had no idea what it meant, and thought that it was another way that the University described co-ed intramural activities. To my surprise, nearly years later, I found out that this was not the case. Unified Sports is where a sport has individuals with and without disabilities, on both teams, competing against each other. This is done as a way to “level the playing field” as individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities often different greatly in their capabilities in the given sports. In addition to this it promotes inclusion and teamwork in the game as individuals of all abilities are literally working together for a common goal. It is a very neat experience when you see a unified team working together, despite the differences they might have in how they think and navigate the world. This is also a great time for the individuals who don’t have special needs to mentor, and teach the Special Olympics athletes about things that will help them both in and out of their sport. Not all sports that Special Olympics offers are considered a sport that has a unified component. Some sports that have a unified component are bowling, basketball, flags football, golf, and many others. Something interesting to note is that there are still competitions in these respective sports, just between individuals with disabilities. Regardless, the unified sports aspect of the Unified Champion School model, offers an excellent framework to promote inclusion in the community.
Youth Leadership & Advocacy: In addition to this, being a Unified Champion School also involves a Youth Leadership and Advocacy program. This gives students with and without intellectual disabilities an opportunity to take on leadership roles which promote both independence in communication skills, and give a sense of purpose to help the community prosper. The youth leadership program for Unified Champions Schools allows participants to advocate for the special-needs community, helping to voice the idea of creating a non-stigmatized world and equal treatment for all individuals.
Whole-School Engagement: What is inclusion without community? Whole school engagements, as part of the unified champion school program, gives opportunities for students with and without disabilities to help promote events and ways to program unified activities in the school system. This is a great opportunity because it allows opportunities for all students to participate in Unified School activities. With these opportunities, individuals not used to being around individuals with special needs get a first-hand glimpse at this population, helping to promote inclusion and break down stigma barriers
Overall, being a Unified Champion School is more than just a title. With consistent, focused programming, a world with less stigma, and inclusion of individuals with and without disabilities is more than possible. One of the local schools near me just became a Unified Champion School, helping to spread the inclusive revolution to places all across the Nation. If you are interested in learning more about Unified Champion Schools and how to become one, visit the Special Olympics resource here:
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