For many Wisconsinites, the most serious thing to consider during a summertime trip to the Dells is usually which water slides to go on.
But for nearly four dozen educators from around the state, a trip to the Dells earlier this month was about something much more serious: how to continue to make Wisconsin schools more inclusive during the upcoming school year with the help of Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Unified Champion Schools (UCS) programming.
“We had such a banner year last year in growing this program but it was so important to us to set the tone that we are going to be even more committed to inclusion in Wisconsin schools this year.” – Director of Unified Programs Erin Muehlenkamp
44 teachers from 33 Wisconsin schools converged on the Wilderness Resort on August 12 for a UCS training seminar. Some came from schools with established UCS programs while others were brand new. But old or new, all were committed to making a difference in their schools for people with and without intellectual disabilities through the three pillars of the UCS program.
In order to be considered a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, schools need to utilize whole-school engagement to promote inclusion, provide unified leadership opportunities to their students, and offer unified sports experiences.
During the day-long training, educators heard from multiple Special Olympics staff on how best to implement and enhance programming, as well as how to raise funds for Special Olympics Wisconsin and their own schools. There were also sessions highlighting additional Special Olympics Wisconsin programs that schools can take part in like Healthy Athletes and SOFit. There was even a session on how to market the incredible things schools are doing through the program to help highlight their efforts and recruit new schools to join the movement.
For Special Olympics staff, this was an important step toward maintaining the momentum from the 2018-19 school year. The school year started with just over 60 Unified Champion Schools, but after a year of intense efforts to grow the ranks of the program and promote inclusion in schools around the state, the number of schools in the program nearly doubled by the end of the school year. And many of those new schools were in attendance for the training seminar to learn more about Special Olympics Wisconsin and how it can be an important tool in the fight for inclusive, accepting, and bully-free school environments.
“This conference was a great way to kick start the 2019-20 school year by bringing together teachers from all over the state. This gave SOWI staff the opportunity to connect with our liaisons about all of the great programs and support they can offer,” said Erin Muehlenkamp, Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Director of Unified Programs. “We had such a banner year last year in growing this program but it was so important to us to set the tone that we are going to be even more committed to inclusion in Wisconsin schools this year.”