Respect is my Universe – there’s space for everyone!

November 26, 2018 Blog, Featured

Students at the 2018 UCS Leadership Summit get goofy for the camera

Earlier this month, about three dozen students and nearly a dozen educators from around the state gathered in Madison to share ideas on promoting inclusion and respect in Wisconsin schools during the 2018 Unified Champion Schools Leadership Summit.

Under the theme “Respect is my Universe – there’s space for everyone!” the two-day summit brought youth leaders and liaisons from Unified Champion Schools (UCS) together to network, share insights to help expand UCS programming in schools, learn how to plan events at school, and raise funds for their clubs and Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes. The theme, along with a fantastic t-shirt design, was created by this year’s Youth Activation Committee to serve as the UCS theme for the 2018-19 school year.

The summit began on Friday, November 9, with a dinner and networking opportunity and then a “Respect is my Universe – there’s space for everyone!”-themed dance to bring everyone closer together and get people primed to have a productive and creative second day. On Saturday, November 10, students split off on a track to do team-building activities and work on brainstorming ideas for activities for the school year. The students capped the day off with an exciting escape room challenge where students were split into four teams that had to work together to try to solve puzzles and challenges.

UCS students try to solve puzzles in an escape room challenge during the Leadership Summit

On the second day of the summit, the liaisons heard guest speakers on topics of building out their UCS clubs, sharing their clubs’ stories to promote their efforts and the UCS program across the state, and how to raise funds for the club. Columbus High School’s Jahlieh Henderson presented on the fundraising piece. In the 2018 Polar Plunge, Columbus High’s UCS club raised over $17,000. As a UCS club, Columbus High received 25% of that money raised back through Special Olympics Wisconsin’s UCS rebate program.

“Seeing the looks on my students’ faces on the car ride home was awesome. It’ll be exciting to see this grow.” – La Follette High School UCS liaison Ryen Hinze

While some of the liaisons at the summit were seasoned UCS vets like Henderson, plenty were new to the program and were eager to bring their newfound knowledge back to their schools. La Follette High School’s Ryen Hinze took over their UCS program just this year so this was his first exposure to a UCS Leadership Summit. “I didn’t know what to expect but I went in with an open mind,” Hinze said. “But the networking was awesome. Hearing what worked, what hasn’t. Hearing from clubs that have more than 100 students and how they work was an eye-opening experience.”

Hinze brought along seven students from his club at La Follette and they shared in his enthusiasm for the summit. “The kids were so great interacting with one another. They’re still talking to students from other schools they met at the summit,” Hinze said. “Seeing the looks on my students’ faces on the car ride home was awesome. It’ll be exciting to see this grow.”

UCS students spell out UNIFY on the ground during a break at the 2018 Leadership Summit

While La Follette’s club is still a newer UCS club, there has already been a great deal of growth recently. According to Hinze, just in the last year the club has grown from about 20 students to around 55.

Hopefully the 2018 Leadership Summit will help build on the enthusiasm and growth taking place in newer UCS clubs like La Follette’s. Bringing the UCS program to new schools and new students is critical to Special Olympics Wisconsin’s mission to help bring inclusion and respect to schools everywhere in Wisconsin. In the words of the inspiring students who make up the Youth Activation Committee, Special Olympics Wisconsin is dedicated to truly ensuring that “there’s space for everyone.”

To learn more about how your school can become a Unified Champion School, please contact Sarah Burch at (608) 442-5663 or

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