The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is aimed at promoting social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities to produce system-wide change.
Since 2008, Special Olympics has been actively engaged in the development and implementation of a school-based strategy supported and endorsed by the US Office of Special Education Programs at the US Department of Education.
With sports as the program’s foundation, the Unified Champion Schools program has three main components: inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement. Unified Champion Schools share a climate of acceptance where students with disabilities feel welcome and are routinely included in, and feel a part of, all school activities, opportunities, and functions.
Over 6,000 elementary, middle, and high schools use Special Olympics Unified Programming.
What are Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools?
Unified Champion Schools promote social inclusion by bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities through sports and other activities. Students who “Play Unified” become better at helping others, standing up for each other, and sharing responsibility.
“I just noticed this entire community. It just clicked for me at the second where all these people, they were all there for one mission and that was built on friendship.” – Cale Denk, Columbus High School Junior
Key Characteristics of Unified Champion Schools:
- Unifying programming
Positive school climates
- Sports as a catalyst for social inclusion
- Development of students’ leadership skills
- Inclusive Sports provide opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities to participate in a variety of fitness and sports activities alongside one another.
- Inclusive Youth Leadership encourages students with and without intellectual disabilities to take on leading roles as they work with adults in the
school to create a socially inclusive environment through sports and other activities.
- Whole School Engagement opportunities are awareness and education activities that promote respect and social inclusion and reach the majority of
students and school staff members.
Unified Champion Schools:
- reduce bullying and exclusion.
- promote inclusive friendships.
- overturn negative attitudes.
- decrease hurtful language in schools and the community.
- develop students’ leadership skills.
- create communities of caring and respect.