Together, we are one
Wilsonville High School was one of five high schools in Oregon to receive National Unified Champion School status this year during a banner unveiling Dec. 14.
A Special Olympics Unified Champion School provides an inclusive school environment for all students by providing equal opportunities in sports, the classroom and within school activities. To receive national banner recognition, schools have to achieve 10 standards based on the Special Olympics Unified Sports program — which allows athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to play on the same athletic team — including whole-school engagement, inclusive youth leadership, and sustainability of the unified program.
"As a school, it recognizes (that) we've gone to an inclusive model where all students, all six periods a day, have a full schedule so they're not secluded. They're (students with special needs) no longer hidden in a classroom, they are fully included," said Bryn Card, special education teacher and unified basketball coach. "It's recognizing our efforts the last four years to get all students into all classes so education is no longer two separate things — one for students with disabilities (and) one for regular students. All students receive the same education."
WHS started its unified basketball and soccer teams about seven years ago when the program was considered a club. Principal Dan Schumaker said student participation would be more one-off and students would play unified sports when there was open gym space.
"This is worthy of a varsity game night," said Schumaker, adding that over the last few years unified sport games are now on regular game nights.
Over the last four years, the school has also focused on coach equity to make sure there are excellent coaches in all sports — some WHS coaches also coach unified sports.
Over the years, staff has also paid more attention to logistics for the unified sports program, whether it's transportation, uniforms, equipment, space, time, training and certification of coaches.
"In middle school, our school Athey, had that program as well but it was more of a club so there wasn't much availability but now in high school ... since it's like an actual sport, there's more time and space to do it, so it's just a really fun way to meet new people," said freshman Ben Schauer.
Former varsity soccer coach and unified soccer coach Becca Shook said it's been very rewarding to watch unified sports athletes support each other.
"We really had an amazing season this last season. We were undefeated and we went into this big tournament that was ultimately the state tournament and we just had some great games and we overcame some adversity and we had our first loss and we rallied around each other," Shook said. "It was awesome to see these guys just have such a great time."
WHS also added unified softball in spring.
"There's more schools that are shifting from soccer in the spring to softball so you see different sports come up and it sounds like our kids are excited about softball," said Dennis Burke, assistant principal and athletic director.
But aside from unified sports, WHS has hosted many unified activities like sensory-friendly dances and game nights. There is also a peer mentor program, a class students can take to support students with different needs.
"A peer mentor isn't a student that's always sitting in a classroom with another student, they aren't in a secluded classroom, they are in a typical classroom supporting a student that may need a little bit more time (and) support," Card said.
On Dec. 14, Jean Hansen, vice president of School Partnerships and Youth Outreach with Special Olympics Oregon, visited WHS during an assembly to give a speech and present the student body with the unified banner, which will hang in the gym with all the sport achievement banners.
"I think it represents how our school is inclusive and we see everyone the same and everyone gets the same opportunities no matter where they come from, who they are, what they do," senior Carly Atwood said. "Everyone gets to participate in anything they want to and try different things."
Burke said Oregon is respected for its efforts with Special Olympics and unified programs and selected a few people, including himself, to attend a national convention last February to share work being done within different unified programs.
"We also believe that to the degree to which we improve, we can help more broadly," said Schumaker, adding that there is a lot of communication between athletic directors and other school officials involved in the unified program. "It's growing at a level where there's a lot of people looking to each other saying 'Well, what are you doing?' And I think that's really helpful."
Burke said staff is also looking at how to have students with special needs involved with track without creating a separate unified track team.
"There's always ideas and thoughts happening," Burke said. "It has no boundaries."