LONG BEACH – What started as a social club a decade ago at Warren High School is now a nationally recognized program.
Warren High School, part of the Downey Unified School District, was one of 30 Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools selected Aug. 30 as part of the first class of ESPN Honor Roll schools. Then on Sept. 6, they took another step up the ladder as they were named an ESPN “Top 5” Unified Champion School. Each of these five schools are meeting 10 criteria of inclusion as leaders of the #UnifiedGeneration and will receive exclusive banner presentations to celebrate that they #ChooseToInclude!
The school is also the first Special Olympics Southern California Unified Champion School to be recognized as a National Banner Unified Champion School, joining the class of 2018. By earning national banner recognition, Warren High School has demonstrated inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence in areas such as unified sports, inclusive youth leadership, whole-school engagement and sustainability.
“Receiving the national banner validates the work and effort of our staff into creating an inclusive environment,” said Christine Spino, a special education instructor in her 11th year at Warren High School. “It gives us an idea that we are headed in the right direction, keeping us motivated to continue along this path.”
Warren High School makes a number of activities available to its students – both with and without intellectual disabilities. The school hosts everything from movie nights and dances to unified sporting events and tailgate parties, in addition to the traditional dances – homecoming, prom and winter formal – and, three years ago, one of Spino’s students was voted to the homecoming court by the senior class.
As far as sports are concerned, Warren High School hosts basketball camps and games, kickball and a unified P.E. program.
New this year, Spino and a general education teacher collaborated to create a unified art class.
Spino said the students “have access to any club or activity they want to be part of” and are recognized for their achievements.
“If they require support or help,” Spino said, “we make it happen.
“Our students are acknowledged at all award ceremonies with their general education peers.”
Before connecting with Special Olympics Southern California, the school started its shift to a more inclusive environment through Spino’s social club Teen Connection, which started 10 years ago. The goal was to promote inclusion and create opportunities for her students to build friendships.
Spino invited 10 general education students to her classroom at lunch, sharing a pizza and playing board games, and by the end of its first month more than 50 general education students were attending. It became an official club on campus the following year, with 200 general education students involved.
“Each year it has grown and each year I have more people supporting it,” Spino said. “It’s amazing to be part of such a supportive campus from top down – administrators, teachers, students, staff and parents. I am never told no when I have an idea, and always greeted with enthusiasm, support and positivity.”
As one of Special Olympics Southern California’s Unified Champion Schools, Spino noted that the partnership has enhanced the school by providing a curriculum, ideas and support to reach more teachers, students and staff.
“Students and teachers have a higher respect and understanding of what it is like to walk in the shoes of our students’ everyday life,” she added. “Our students are typical teens and contribute to our school in a positive way.
“These programs help us ensure that we are doing everything we can to provide a great educational environment for all of our students. … It raises awareness, and teaches tolerance, acceptance, compassion and respect.”