Special Olympics Connecticut has announced that Highland School, a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, is receiving national banner recognition for its efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities for students with and without disabilities.
Highland School is receiving this honor as a result of meeting national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy and respect. An award presentation will take place at the school later this month.
Highland School will be among a select number of schools to receive this distinction. They will be presented with a banner to hang in their school and be included on a list of other schools around the country who have achieved this distinguished status.
“I am so proud of our Unified Sports team and the entire Highland staff for the commitment to total inclusion in our school community,” said Highland Principal Scott Jeffrey. “Special thank you to Lisa Rettenmeier and Alison Ranciato and the core team for their commitment and dedication to developing a program that brings our athletes and non-disabled students together in an environment of inclusion.”
Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools is a strategy, for schools pre-K through university-level, that intentionally promotes meaningful social inclusion by bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities to create accepting school environments, utilizing three interconnected components: Special Olympics Unified Sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement.
Schools currently participating in Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools programming are among more than 7,500 schools across the country engaged in the program. Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools aims to expand to 10,000 schools by the end of the 2023-2024 school year.
The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools model is supported by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. This model has been proven, through research, to be an effective and replicable means to providing students with and without disabilities the opportunity to form positive social relationships and promote a socially inclusive school climate. Key data points include:
•94% of teachers/school staff say the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program increases opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities to work together.
•98% of involved teachers believe participation in the program has increased the confidence of students with disabilities.
•92% credit the program with reducing bullying, teasing, and offensive language.
A Special Olympics Unified Champion School has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement, and respect for all members of the student body and staff. A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence. These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.
The primary activities within these standards include: Special Olympics Unified Sports (where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates), inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement. National banner schools should also be able to demonstrate that they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities into the future.
“Highland School is committed to providing a positive, safe, nurturing environment that inspires all children to achieve their individual potential as life-long learners,” said Jeffrey. “We strive to create a community based on mutual respect and in which all students become responsible citizens. This commitment relies on a cooperative effort that is centered on students, supported by home and community, and facilitated by teachers and staff.”