We are excited to announce that Dorothy McElhinney Middle School from the Murrieta Valley Unified School District in Riverside County and La Quinta High School from the Garden Grove Unified School District in Orange County, both Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools®, are receiving national banner recognition for their efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities for students with and without intellectual disabilities.
The schools are receiving this distinguished status as a result of meeting 10 national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy, and respect. These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.
The primary activities within these standards stem from three interconnected components – Special Olympics Unified Sports®, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement. National banner schools should also demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities into the future.
Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools is a strategy for K-College schools that brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities. It incorporates student-driven sports, social, and advocacy activities on school campuses in a way that is inclusive and sustainable. This approach results in positive impacts on the entire school community.
At its core, this Special Olympics strategy is about unifying all students using sports as a catalyst for social inclusion and attitude and behavior change. As many as 19.5 million young people are taking part in inclusive experiences through Special Olympics.
More than 100 schools are currently utilizing the Unified Champion Schools strategy in Southern California, as part of 8,300 schools across the country engaged in the work. Unified Champion Schools aims to expand to 10,000 schools by the end of the 2023-2024 school year.
The Unified Champion Schools model is supported by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. This model has been proven, through research, 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.