Eight Indiana Schools Recognized Nationally by Special Olympics as Champions of Inclusion

by | Oct 21, 2020 | Press Room, Spotlight

For the second consecutive year, Special Olympics North America has announced that a number of Indiana schools will receive national banner recognition for their efforts to engage students with and without intellectual disabilities in inclusive activities. The schools are all participants in Special Olympics Indiana’s Unified Champion Schools and Champions Together programs and are being honored for meeting national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy, and respect.

Indiana’s 2019-2020 National Unified Champion Banner schools are:  Bedford North Lawrence High School, Center Grove High School, DeKalb High School, Franklin Central High School, Indian Creek High School, Mount Vernon High School, Rochester Community Middle School, Valparaiso High School.

The schools are among a select number across the nation to receive this distinction, and each will be presented with a banner to hang in their school this fall. Valparaiso High School has been further recognized as part of the ESPN Honor Roll for 2020, listed among the top 36 inclusive schools in the nation, while Rochester Community Middle School is Indiana’s first intermediate school to earn a national banner.

“Indiana’s national banner winning schools have shown tremendous commitment to the growth of all students, including those in special education,” said Special Olympics Indiana President and CEO Jeff Mohler. “In a world impacted by COVID-19, research has shown that daily contact with students—even in a virtual environment—is important to their education and well-being.”

The aim of the Unified Champion Schools program is to empower youth to become agents of change by encouraging special education and general education students to work together—along with educators and administrators—to promote social inclusion through a variety of year-round activities related to three main components: Unified Sports®, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole-School Engagement.

A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has an inclusive school climate and that has demonstrated a commitment to the program by meeting 10 national standards of excellence defined by a panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the academic community. National banner schools also must demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities into the future.

Through an innovative partnership with the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) known as Champions Together, Indiana has become a global leader in the implementation of Unified Champion Schools programming. This partnership has led to the establishment of Unified Track and Field and Unified Flag Football as officially sanctioned IHSAA sports—along with the development of state championships in Unified Bocce and Unified Bowling—and has helped to provide new opportunities for students of all abilities to “play unified” and to learn from each other while representing their schools in competition.

“Our partner schools deserve the praise and recognition given to them by this prestigious honor,” Mohler said. “Congratulations to the students, faculty, and staff who are doing their part to create inclusive communities within their buildings.”

More than 650 schools are currently participating in Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools programming in Indiana, representing nearly 10 percent of the more than 7,500 schools across the country engaged in the program. Special Olympics has a global goal of creating 10,000 Unified Champion Schools by 2024.

The Unified Champion Schools model is supported by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. This model has been proven, through research by the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston, to be an effective and replicable means to providing students with and without disabilities the opportunity to form positive social relationships and promote a socially inclusive school climate.

For more information about Unified Champion Schools or Champions Together, contact Special Olympics Indiana at 317-328-2000 or visit soindiana.org/schools.

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ABOUT SPECIAL OLYMPICS INDIANA
Special Olympics Indiana is a nonprofit organization that is part of the global Special Olympics movement, using sport, health, education, and leadership programs everyday around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. We are a sports organization that uses the power of sport as a catalyst for social change, working for more than 50 years to open hearts and minds toward people with intellectual disabilities and to create inclusive communities across the state. With the support of over 10,000 coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics Indiana provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for more than 18,000 athletes and unified partners at no cost to the participants.

ABOUT CHAMPIONS TOGETHER
Champions Together is a collaborative partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and Special Olympics Indiana that promotes servant leadership among student athletes while empowering students of all abilities to become agents of change through the implementation of Special Olympics’ Unified Champion Schools programming. Since 2012, Champions Together has facilitated inclusive student leadership, whole school engagement activities, and enabled students with and without intellectual disabilities to represent their schools in Unified Sports® officially sanctioned by the IHSAA. For more information visit www.soindiana.org/champions-together  or contact Champions Together Director Lee Lonzo at llonzo@ihsaa.org.

ABOUT THE INDIANA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, INC. (IHSAA)
The IHSAA is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization that is self-supporting without the use of tax monies. Since its founding in 1903, the Association’s mission has been to provide wholesome, educational athletics for the secondary schools of Indiana. Its 411 member high schools – public, institutional, parochial and private – pay no annual membership fee or incur entry fees to play in the Association’s tournaments. A state tournament series is conducted annually in 22 sports, 10 for girls, 10 for boys and two co-ed (unified flag football and unified track and field). A 19-person board of directors, elected by member school principals, governs the organization. Learn more by visiting www.ihsaa.org.

CONTACTS:

Nathan Barnes, Manager of Grants & Communication

Mike Hasch, Director of Unified Champion Schools

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