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- Tim Martin, CEO & President of Special Olympics Arizona

Unified Champion Schools®

Our Goal: Creating Inclusive Schools that Foster Respect and Acceptance

Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools engages schools to climates of inclusion, acceptance, respect, and human dignity for all students with and without intellectual disabilities.


Unified Champion Schools®

Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® builds on Special Olympics’ values, principles, practices, experiences and impacts to shape a generation that welcomes everyone. The Unified Champion Schools® approach incorporates three pillars of Special Olympics programs including: Unified Sports®, Inclusive Youth Leadership, Whole School Engagement, and related activities, while enhancing the youth experience and empowering them to be change agents in their communities. This requires a shift in current programs and paradigms from a focus on events to committing to a movement advocating for youth as leaders. This programming promotes social inclusion in schools to ensure special education and general education students are equitably engaged. Teachers and students are encouraged to collaborate and create supportive classrooms, activities and opportunities. 

Unified Sports®

Special Olympics Unified Sports® is an education and sports based strategy powered by an engaged youth community that increases athletic and leadership opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities, while creating communities of acceptance for all. In Unified Sports®, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, which makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. Having sport in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away. At no cost to any athletes to join or participate, Unified Sports® is available for all ages, school based community based and other day or private programs. The following are different options of how Unified Sports® is facilitated within Unified Champion Schools®:

  • Unified Sports® Adaptive PE Curriculum (Elementary, Middle, & High Schools) is an Inclusive Program which combines athletes and partners on sports teams for training and competition within the P.E. Classroom.
  • AIA Unified Sports® was formed through a partnership in 2011 between Special Olympics Arizona and the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) with the sole purpose of building a state-wide Unified Sports® system.

Inclusive Youth Leadership

Students should be encouraged and supported to be agents of change, have opportunities to be leaders, and participate in collaborative school activities. To achieve this, school leaders and educators must foster a socially inclusive school climate that emphasizes acceptance, respect and human dignity for all students. A socially inclusive school is a place where no student is excluded because of the degree or type of disability or the services required to meet his/her needs. Inclusive Youth Leaders pave the path for their fellow students, recognizing that their peers with intellectual disabilities have the potential to be phenomenal leaders, just like their peers without intellectual disabilities. The following are different ways of how Inclusive Youth Leadership is facilitated within Unified Champion Schools®:

  • Unified Clubs are inclusive school-based committees which are youth-led and athlete driven. Unified Clubs focus on acceptance and inclusion through sports, social interaction, recreational opportunities, and supporting the incredible Unified Programs on campus! The goals are simple: build student character, increase acceptance, develop leadership skills, and enhance your school community! We are excited to launch Unified Art in the 2017-2018 school year! Stay tuned for more information on how your Unified Club can get involved!
  • State Youth Activation Committee (State YAC) is a committee of Inclusive High School Leaders representing schools from across the state who directly support the Unified Champion Schools® initiatives both on and off campus.
  • Special Olympics Unified Leaders (SOUL) with Special Olympics Arizona is an opportunity for college students and young adult professionals to come together and help promote social inclusion at their colleges and places of business.

 Click here for the Inclusive Youth Leadership Guidebook.

Whole School Engagement

Whole School Engagement is an important feature of creating a socially inclusive school climate is engaging the entire school community in the process. Whole School Engagement activities cultivate a positive school climate, enhances other school-wide efforts, and promotes intergenerational leadership by including all students, teachers, staff, administrators and. School-wide opportunities focused on social inclusion raise awareness and create an educational environment where respect and acceptance are the norm and all students feel included and engaged. Whole school activities also offer a platform to demonstrate the power of young people to positively impact their school community by promoting social inclusion. The following are different ways of how Whole School Engagement is achieved within Unified Champion Schools®:

  • Spread the Word to End the Word (R-Word) Campaign promotes respect and inclusion for people with and without intellectual disabilities on your campus. Schools can receive an R-Word Kit filled with collateral, giveaways, and an R-Word banner for your entire school to sign and pledge #Respect! Click here to learn more about the R-Word Campaign
  • Minute That Matters is a youth-led 60-second FUNdraiser for your school to raise awareness for inclusion and the best part is, 100% of funds raised goes directly back to your Unified Programs on campus!
  • Unified Fan Activation gives Special Olympics Arizona the opportUNITY to take over your commUNITY! We'll bring out our Unified Fan Activation truck, Unified games like corntoss and ladder ball, and tons of giveaways for your students as a fun way to engage your entire school during lunchtime!

Do You Have A Unified Champion Schools® Success Story? We Want to Hear it! Submit your story here!


National Banner Unified Champion Schools®

A Special Olympics Unified Champion School has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboratin, engagement, and respect for all members of the student body and staff. A National Banner Unified Champion School is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by achieving the ten standards described below. These standards are based upon the three over-arching components of a Unified Champion School which includes Special Olympics Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement. Banner Schools should also be able to demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these inclusive activities into the future.

National Banner Unified Champion School Components & Achievement Standards:

The ten standards of excellence listed below were developed by a national panel of leaders in education and Special Olympics. When the standards have been met by a school, it is eligible to be recognized as a National Banner Unified Champion School.

  1. Unified Sports is offered in at least 2 seasons throughout the school year.
  2. Unified Sports participation occurs regularly over the course of each sport season or school term and includes competition.
  3. An adult coach for each sport who has received training on Special Olympics Unified Sports
  4. Unified Sports is officially recognized by the school in a similar style as other athletics/activities.
  5. A Unified Club or inclusive student group offersleadership opportunities/training for students with and without intellectual disabilities.
  6. The Unified Club or inclusive student group meets at least once per month throughout the school year
  7. The Unified Club or inclusive student group has an adult liaison and is officially recognized by the school in a similar style as other clubs/activities.
  8. At least two Whole School Engagement activities are implemented per school year
  9. Students with and without intellectual disabilities are involved with planning and leading the awareness activities.
  10. The school is currently self-sustainable and/or has a plan in place to sustain the three components (Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, & Whole School Engagement) into the future.


Unified Champion Schools Resources

2017-2018 Program Application: If you would like your school to participate in Unified Sports, please fill out the 2016-2017 Program Application

Unified Sports: A Students Guide: Throughout this guide, you will find step-by-step instructions to start a Special Olympics Unified Sports® Program at your school. You will also find helpful tips, and inspirational stories to help you along your journey. You will soon see how beneficial this program will be to you and your friends, with and without disabilities. Click here for the Unified Sports Student Guide.

Looking for more Unified Sports Resources? Click here for the Unified Champion Schools® Resource Page. The Unified Champion Schools® Resource Page serves as a portal for youth, programs and educators who are looking to become more involved with the Special Olympics movement.  

For more information please contact your Local Area Director or Director of Support Programs, Brittany Doud, Brittany@SpecialOlympicsArizona.org  

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