SOWI volunteer Jahlieh Gardipee is a true Jill of all trades. She’s a special education teacher at Columbus High School, where she has turned the school into one of the model Unified Champion School (UCS) programs in Wisconsin as the UCS liaison since 2012. She’s the head coach for Columbus High’s forensics team, which aims to improve communication skills through debate, speech and theater, according to the Wisconsin High School Forensic Association.
And as of this year, Gardipee is now the coordinator for SOWI’s Youth Activation Committee. The goal of the Youth Activation Committee (YAC) is to activate students to promote inclusive school communities across Wisconsin. Gardipee has been tasked with growing the committee, currently at about 12, and ultimately getting more schools and students involved in the inclusion movement and the Unified Champion School program.
“Through sport, recreation, and youth leadership, my students have grown immensely as young advocates and I am confident the future is brighter because they have chosen to Live Unified.”
This tall order is in good hands though. Gardipee has a proven track record of success in SOWI. In 2015 she was awarded with a Project Unify Inclusion Award – a lifetime achievement award – by SOWI for her contributions to Unified Champion Schools, formerly known as Project Unify. Gardipee is a true agent of change in the inclusion movement and her passion has fit right in with SOWI.
“Special Olympics has given me and my students so many more opportunities to practice inclusion in a variety of settings. Through sport, recreation, and youth leadership, my students have grown immensely as young advocates and I am confident the future is brighter because they have chosen to Live Unified,” Gardipee said.
In July 2018, Gardipee and two of her students from Columbus High will find themselves in a yet another new setting to practice inclusion. She, along with students Erica Patrick and Kira Janisch, will be part of the Team Wisconsin delegation at the USA Games in Seattle. They were selected as Wisconsin’s YAC delegation due to their commitment to the inclusion movement and the UCS program.
“I am in love with what I do and thank my students for making each day a new adventure.”
While in Seattle, they will be able to work in different capacities throughout the week-long event that provide them with new experiences in inclusion promotion and event organizing. As part of the Team Wisconsin delegation they will travel to and from Seattle along with the 54 athletes/Unified partners. The goal is that when Gardipee, Janisch and Patrick return from the experience, they will be able to apply some of what they learned about promoting and facilitating inclusion to the development of the YAC here in Wisconsin.
“I am excited to see how Special Olympics runs on a national scale. I’m also anxious to see how the two student leaders I have the honor of accompanying learn from the experience. I know they’ll make lasting connections and hopefully acquire new ideas to continue inclusive programming for Wisconsin,” Gardipee said.
Whatever the takeaway may be from next year’s USA Games, SOWI’s YAC will undoubtedly help move the needle of inclusion in Wisconsin’s schools under Gardipee’s stewardship due to her unwavering commitment and passion.
“I am in love with what I do and thank my students for making each day a new adventure,” Gardipee said.