Five high schools across the country were recognized for their inclusive school environments, including Iowa, New Mexico, Delaware, Minnesota, and Vermont.
ESPN and Special Olympics hosted a virtual celebration to honor Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU) for being a “Unified Champion School.”
To qualify, schools must promote the inclusion of students — with and without disabilities — in programs, such as sports.
“A unified sports team is a sports that involved students with intellectual disabilities who we call athletes and students without intellectual disabilities who we call partners. They are members of the same team and they work together,” said Missy Siner Shea, President & CEO of Special Olympics Vermont.
At CVU, these unified sports teams include basketball, bocce ball, bowling and soccer. Two students have been a part of their school’s unified club since they were freshman in high school. Today they are seniors.
“It’s made me more…extremely comfortable,” said CVU senior Eliza Mclean.
Another student says the club has allowed her to play sports she wouldn’t otherwise get to play.
“I like it because I can get to do sports that are easier for me. It’s not hard than regular sports and I get to make new friends,” said CVU senior Olivia Lamothe.
CVU’s math teacher Peter Booth coached the Unified Basketball Team for six years and achieved both state and national championships. He says the program greatly impacts the school community.
“When a student on the basketball team can into the library or cafeteria rather and sit down with three kids from the varsity basketball team…We’re doing something right,” said Booth.
Professional athletes, ESPN hosts, and government officials, including members of Vermont’s Congressional Delegation congratulated CVU students and faculty.
“Receiving the Special Olympic Unified Banner School Award is a tribute to your commitment to the values of unity, working together, and the Special Olympics,” said Congressman Peter Welch. “It was a tough year, 2020, we had to cancel the Special Olympics. That was hard. But you did what you had to do and didn’t abandon the goal of the Special Olympics…and that’s inclusion.”
Senator Patrick Leahy also said a few words to the CVU school community.
“…CVU along with other schools and partners around the state have a strong commitment to supporting the health and development of all athletes,” said Leahy.
CVU has been working with Special Olympics Vermont for 22 years to ensure all students feel a sense of belonging.
“So it is not all about one group helping another. It’s about people working together to create the best environment possible. And you’ll hear school administrators, particularly athletic directors talk about the Unified Champion School Program being the best thing that ever happened to the program of their school,” said Shea.