In the spring of 2018, Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete Daina Shilts visited Unified Champion School Columbus High School to film a video for Special Olympics that debuted in early October for National Bullying Prevention Month. It was her first time stepping foot in a Unified Champion School. This is her account of the day. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
By Daina Shilts
Hello everyone, many of you know me but some of you don’t. My name is Daina Shilts and I am a very proud Special Olympics athletes. A few months ago I had the honor of going to a Unified Champion School for the very first time ever. I had no idea what to expect. And I will tell you it was an experience of a lifetime!
My middle school and high school life was horrible because of many of my peers and even my special education teacher. So that’s kind of what I was expecting when going into the Unified Champion School. But man was I wrong. It instantly brought me to tears knowing that the classmates with and without intellectual disabilities were walking the halls, sitting together at lunch, or playing funny games in a gym together.
I will tell you a little bit about why I wasn’t expecting it to be as great as it was. Since about the middle of my sixth grade year in middle school, I was teased and bullied basically every day. As a result, I came home crying every day. My parents and eventually Special Olympics were my lifelines.
I mean I was called short, people made fun of my name, I was shoved in lockers. I even had my pants flushed down the toilet once if you can believe it. But what hurt the most was the use of the R word on a daily basis. It happened so often some days I actually believed it. My parents always told me that they loved me and I always felt I was normal in their eyes. So I went through a lot in school as you can tell.
A different story
But going to the Unified Champion School Columbus changed my whole entire mindset and view on schools. It made me realize that there really is change happening in schools. It gave me hope that change can happen really fast in schools. If done right, so many more schools can change and become Unified just like Columbus. For me to see what I did at that Unified Champion School was unbelievably breathtaking and motivating. I want to get more Unified Champion Schools in Wisconsin so no one ever will have to go through what I did in middle school and high school.
At Columbus, it wasn’t even just about the walking the halls or sitting together in the classroom or sitting at lunch. The whole entire school was interacting with people with disabilities – peers, teachers, you name it. It was awesome.
The Unified Generation
If you’re thinking of starting a Unified Champion School please do. Then we can help make the world change together. And we all know it does need to change for the next generation of kids with intellectual disabilities. Let’s make sure the next generation is the Unified Generation.