The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools (UCS) program promotes a socially inclusive school climate where acceptance, respect, and human dignity for all students is the norm. A Unified Champion School equitably supports students through education and sports-based strategy powered by engaged youth that increases athletic and leadership opportunities for every student to contribute. In Unified Champion Schools, young people of all abilities can be inclusive leaders and athletes, engaging their entire school community in creating an environment where every student feels challenged, supported and connected.
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What Makes a Unified Champion School
The Unified Champion Schools initiative is offered by SONJ through the Play Unified School Partnership. SONJ assists schools with implementing the three pillars of a Unified Champion School:
- Inclusive sports – The Unified Sports® programs including Interscholastic Unified Sports, Unified PE or Unified Intramurals, Special Olympics Unified Sports and Special Olympics Young Athletes.
- Youth Leadership – Students with and without intellectual disabilities working together to lead and plan advocacy, awareness, and other Special Olympics and related inclusive activities throughout the school year.
- Whole School Engagement – Awareness and education activities that promote inclusion and reach the majority of the school population. Examples include such things as Spread the Word to End the Word (RWord) Campaigns, Pep Rallies or “Fans in the Stands” for Unified Sports teams, Choose to Include Campaigns or student fundraising.
It is the combination of these three components that provides the most opportunity for creating positive school climates. Through their commitment to inclusion and awareness, Unified Champion Schools ensure that all students, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, become part of the school’s social fabric. The focus moves beyond volunteerism toward meaningful interaction, building relationships, and creating equal opportunity, leveling the playing field so students discover their uniquely different abilities.
11 Year Evaluation
The Year 11 evaluation, which spanned the 2018-2019 school year, provides some of the strongest evidence yet of the benefits and impacts and the UCS program across school and age levels. As the findings below demonstrate, the UCS program creates socially inclusive school communities that highlight the value of all members, promotes social interactions between students with and without intellectual disabilities that facilitate positive attitudes and relationships, and provides all participants with new experiences and skills that build character.