South Ripley among 14 Indiana schools to receive national recognition from Special Olympics
JARED ROGERS PHOTO
Detailed in a recent release from Special Olympics North America, South Ripley High School is among 14 Indiana schools to receive a national banner of recognition for their efforts to engage students with and without intellectual disabilities in inclusive activities during the 2018-19 school year.
South Ripley media teacher and Champions Together sponsor Brenda Strimple says she is very proud of her students, the high school staff, parents, and friends at Ripley-Ohio-Dearborn Special Olympics for their support.
“This award would not be possible without our students,” she said, adding, “Their support, organization, and leadership are vital to the Champions Together program.”
Coordinator for the local Ripley-Ohio-Dearborn chapter of Special Olympics, Greg Townsend, extended his congratulations to the school, saying, “South Ripley High School has been pioneering the ‘inclusion revolution’ from day one and is very deserving of national recognition.”
Townsend says he has seen the positive impact Champions Together has had for students with intellectual differences and throughout the entire school. Being that it is the 50th anniversary for Special Olympics Indiana, Townsend also says that it is a fitting time to reflect on local success.
In addition to South Ripley, other National Unified Champion banner schools are Blackford Jr.-Sr. High School, Carmel High School, Carroll High School (Fort Wayne), Columbus East High School, East Noble High School, Fishers High School, Goshen High School, Harrison High School (West Lafayette), Mooresville High School, Muncie Central High School, North Side High School (Fort Wayne), Perry Meridian High School, and West Lafayette High School.
All of the schools participate in the Special Olympics Champions Together program and are being honored for meeting national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy, and respect.
Strimple shares the importance of cultivating those qualities in youth, saying, “I think it helps all our students understand that no matter who you are, everyone wants to belong, to be accepted, to be a part of a team, and to have fun.”
A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has an inclusive school climate and that has demonstrated a commitment to the program by meeting 10 national standards of excellence defined by a panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the academic community. National banner schools must also demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain their activities into the future.
Special Olympics North America reports that the Unified Champion Schools model is supported by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. The model is said to be proven through research by the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and 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.
“We are incredibly proud of the way that schools across Indiana have embraced this idea that students of all abilities can and should lead us toward a better, more inclusive future,” said Special Olympics Indiana President and CEO Jeff Mohler. “These 14 schools have gone above and beyond in their commitment to this program and they deserve every bit of this recognition for helping to create unified school communities.”
The Champions Together program is a partnership between the Indiana High School Athletics Association and Special Olympics. Through it, Special Olympics North America reports that Indiana is a global leader in the implementation of Unified Champion Schools programming. The partnership led to the establishment of Unified Track and Field and Unified Flag Football as officially sanctioned IHSAA sports. Indiana now holds state championships in Unified Bocce and Unified bowling as well.
“The IHSAA is extremely proud of our member schools for achieving this prestigious recognition from Special Olympics,” said IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox. “These schools have embraced the inclusion revolution and in doing so, have positively changed the cultures in their schools and communities. There are very few considerations more important than these enhancements to the scholastic experience.”
Across the state, more than 650 schools participate in Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools programming, representing a full 10 percent of the more than 6,500 schools across the country also engaged in the program. Special Olympics has a goal of creating 10,000 Unified Champion Schools by 2020.
The aim of the Unified Champion Schools program is to empower youth to become agents of change by encouraging special education and general education students to work together—along with educators and administrators—to promote social inclusion through a variety of year-round activities related to three main components: Unified Sports®, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole-School Engagement.
Since beginning their Champions Together chapter in 2014-15, South Ripley students and staff have developed all three of these areas. The school created both a Unified Basketball team and Unified Bowling team in the area of Unified Sports®.
Regarding inclusive youth leadership, students with and without intellectual disabilities worked together to learn a Zumba routine that was performed at a basketball game last year. They’ve also organized a Christmas party and held basketball and cheer clinics together. Champions Together members also partner with the local Ripley-Ohio-Dearborn chapter of Special Olympics for annual fundraisers like the Polar Plunge and Fire Truck Pull.
Working toward whole-school engagement, SR Champions Together participants campaign to urge fellow students from using the “R-word” through a banner pledge and by creating a video shown on CNN-SR.
Although no plans are set yet, South Ripley looks forward to celebrating their new banner when it is delivered. The school also has a chance for further recognition: one of the 14 Indiana schools will be included on the “ESPN Honor Roll” for 2019, which is a list of the top 34 inclusive schools in the nation.
The occasion is certainly worthy for celebration, and ROD Coordinator Townsend also wants to use such success as fuel. “We also look forward to the future as we strive to create an inclusive culture within our schools and communities for all.”