We are excited to announce that we are partnering with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) in the Special Olympics North America Unified Champion City Schools (UCCS) initiative this fall. UCCS is a focused approach to amplify the essential elements of Unified Champion Schools (UCS) within city school districts. UCS utilizes three interconnected components for social inclusion in schools:
- Special Olympics Unified Sports® (bringing together people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team)
- Inclusive Youth Leadership (when young people of all abilities are given opportunities to be leaders in their schools and communities)
- Whole-school engagement (creates a school climate that fosters understanding and respect for all and can influence how students think and act within and beyond the school)
There are nearly 8,000 Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® in the United States and Special Olympics North America (SONA) has a goal to reach 10,000 schools by the 2023-2024 academic school year. Currently, 26% of Unified Champion Schools are in urban school districts but only 7% are urban schools of the highest need. Special Olympics Wisconsin will be one of the select few U.S. state Programs to implement the UCCS initiative, which will focus on expanding inclusive programming within city school districts.
“Our relationship with this district grows stronger each year and the amount of athletes who participate in Special Olympics Wisconsin programming reflects the hard work on both sides of this partnership.” – Erin Muehlenkamp, Director of Unified Programs.
In our partnership with the Milwaukee Public Schools, we’re aiming to add a full-time staff member who will work directly with the district to strengthen and expand community partnerships. The Milwaukee Public School system is Wisconsin’s largest, with approximately 75,000 students in 165 schools. 82% of students in MPS are economically disadvantaged while nearly 90% are students of color.
“Our relationship with this district grows stronger each year and the amount of athletes who participate in Special Olympics Wisconsin programming reflects the hard work on both sides of this partnership,” said Erin Muehlenkamp, Director of Unified Programs.
Large city school districts like MPS typically face more complex challenges, warranting greater and more deliberate actions. In schools that have implemented UCS programming, 92% of educators reported reduced bullying, teasing, and offensive language among students.
With recent national attention to the inequities that exist in underserved communities, the time is right for systematic approaches to position city schools as models of what’s possible. While we understand that the complex and systematic inequalities can’t be solved by Special Olympics programming alone, our approach to inclusion, honed for more than 50 years now, can be an important tool for improving Milwaukee Public Schools and the surrounding communities.
“We believe that opportunities extended by this initiative will have a lasting impact for students, staff and the community across Milwaukee,” Muehlenkamp said.