Lake Oswego Junior High offers a variety of clubs and activities for students to participate in, but it's Pathways teacher Kasie Hansen's goal to make sure there's a club for everyone. That's precisely why she started the school's Unified Club, an inclusive after-school club for students with special needs as well as general education students.
"I wanted to have a program available at the school that is welcoming for everyone that might not fit into another club," says Hansen. "Our first meeting was on the 1st of December, and we had about 10 students. Now we're usually around double that."
Unified Clubs have been created at schools across the country with help from the Special Olympics and individual schools' special education departments. Unified Clubs promote inclusion, and are a way for students with and without disabilities to come together and have fun. This is the first Unified Club in the Lake Oswego School District.
Max Wood, a seventh-grader at LOJ, decided to join Unified Club as a way to get to know more students. "It's fun to connect with people that you wouldn't normally, and get to know them," says Wood. "I wanted to do something where I could meet people and experience new things."
Wood says she wanted to do something with her best friend, an eighth-grader at LOJ named Karma Bradley. "I was curious about what it was based on seeing posters around the school," says Bradley. However, the two were nervous about entering into a new environment. "We kind of dragged each other into the room, and now it's great," Bradley says.
Joanne Sayer is a mother of a neuro-atypical sixth-grader at LOJ named Ethan, and spends time volunteering for the Unified Club in addition to her work as a special education assistant at the LOSD's Community Transitions program.
"Unified Club been great for neurotypical students and students with special needs — absolutely everyone. At first, Ethan wasn't so sure, but he's settled in really nicely and made new friends," says Sayer. "I appreciated this club being created, because we've never had something like it before."
Sayer says that Unified Club presents a unique opportunity for students of all kinds to realize their similarities. "The more everyone can relate to each other in a lot of ways, the better," she says.
"I like hanging out with my friends and playing games," adds Ethan Sayer.
Armani Jackson says that the club is a welcoming and low stress way to meet other students. "I've been able to make new friends and hang out with people," she says. "When I first came to the club, I began talking with people and we just began to bond over time. It was awesome."
The Unified Club recently participated the Polar Plunge, sponsored by Special Olympics Oregon. Hansen hopes this will be a yearly tradition for the club. "It was a lot of fun," she says. "It was super cold, but worth it. The students that were able to make it had a blast."
Next year will also be the first year that LOJ has a Unified Sports program, which operates similarly to the Unified Club, in that it combines approximately equal numbers of Special Olympics athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities (known as unified partners) on sports teams for training and competition. LOJ plans to create a soccer team and basketball team next year.
"I'm really happy to see the school community really embrace all students and come together to create this opportunity," says Hansen.
The Unified Club meets every Tuesday from 4-5 p.m. at LOJ. For more information on Unified Sports, visit www.specialolympics.org/our-work/sports-and-games/unified-sports. More information on LOJ's Unified Sports will be available toward the end of the school year.
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