Unified Champion Schools are based on the premise that lasting change must start with youth.
In elementary schools, adults foster youth leadership by facilitating age-appropriate leadership roles and providing learning experiences that explore what it means to be a leader. Students might be mentors for younger student athletes, set up sports skill stations, and discuss books that promote leadership qualities, for example. These experiences lay a strong foundation for middle and high school years when students take more initiative in planning and implementing Unified opportunities. Ultimately, students become advocates for communities that promote respect and dignity for everyone.
What Does a Socially Inclusive Elementary School Look Like?
Imagine a school where no student is excluded because of a disability or the services required to meet the child’s needs. All students are engaged in positive ways; a variety of experiences are offered that build on individual strengths and appreciate diversity.
As you enter the school, you see students with and without disabilities waiting at the entrances, ready to welcome students and visitors with big smiles and positive greetings. You see colorful posters and banners on the hallway walls with messages of caring, respect, and responsibility and with many students pictured.
You see students pausing in the hallway to high-five students who recently competed in a Special Olympics swim meet. The school is a place of respect where differences are accepted and the achievements of all students are celebrated.
In the cafeteria, you see students with and without disabilities sitting at the same table and talking about their plans for recess. You see students in a book club eating with a teacher as they discuss the ways leadership is demonstrated in a book they read.
During recess all students are engaged in play with other children. No students sit off to the side by themselves. Everyone is included.
Every student is given an opportunity to meaningfully contribute and participate, and students are recognized for their similarities and strengths rather than disabilities. All around you is evidence that students feel that they are a valued part of the school.
Why Do We Need Socially Inclusive Elementary Schools?
The influence of the school climate is far-reaching. It impacts every aspect of students’ school experiences, from their social and emotional well-being to their academic achievement. A positive school climate promotes student learning and increases student motivation to learn.
A positive school climate is inclusive. It creates a sense of belonging for all students. It ensures that students with and without disabilities have frequent opportunities to interact.
The elementary school years are optimal years for students to develop empathy and social awareness. Bullying and other negative behaviors are less likely to occur in school environments where students understand and appreciate differences. Plus, attitudes of acceptance that are formed early are likely to stick for life.
Students learn pro-social skills in Unified Champion Schools:
* 69% learned about standing up for something.
* 67% learned about working with others.
* 59% learned about helping others.
* 57% learned about becoming more patient.
* 50% learned about identifying qualities they have in common with students of different abilities.