Jeffery School Receives National Recognition for Inclusivity
School officials announced last month that Jeffrey Elementary, a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, received national recognition for its efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities for students with and without disabilities. Jeffrey School received this honor as a result of attaining national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy, and respect, according to Principal Rebecca Frost.
An award ceremony took place on Oct. 21, complete with a performance by the Daniel Hand High School marching band and cheerleading team. Frost said the honor is a reflection of the staff and student dedication to inclusion and simple kindness.
“Jeffrey School is proud of its efforts to promote inclusion, kindness, and equity,” said Frost.
According to Frost, Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools is a strategy for schools from Pre-K through university level that promote meaningful social inclusion by bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities to create accepting school environments. Frost said that by utilizing three interconnected components: Special Olympics Unified Sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement, schools like Jeffery can not only make a difference but initiate that process early in the educational life for all the students involved.
According to the organization, more than 8,000 schools across the country engaged in the program this past school year. A Special Olympics Unified Champion School has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement, and respect for all members of the student body and staff. A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence, according to Frost.
The primary activities within these standards include: Special Olympics Unified Sports (where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates), inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement. National banner schools should also be able to demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities into the future, Frost said.
Lisa Aronson, a second grade special education teacher at Jeffery, said the recognition by the Special Olympics was an honor and reflected the school’s commitment to inclusive programming.
“Three years ago our school applied to be a state Unified Champion School which is a program jointly run by Special Olympics and CIAC. It was the first year that this program had been brought down to the elementary level, having only been offered to middle and high schools in the past. We had to show that we had, and were expanding upon, programs which promoted an atmosphere of inclusion,” said Aronson. “We have developed many programs here at Jeffrey that get the entire school involved in fostering inclusion, kindness, and acceptance.”
According to Aronson, “unified” means that every staff member and student is part of the effort to ensure the entire school is perceived as “one”.
“It is so important for all students and staff to truly believe in fostering an atmosphere of inclusion. This program is focused around including those with disabilities, but we take it further at Jeffrey and focus our efforts on really embracing an atmosphere of social equity where we celebrate everyone’s uniqueness and recognize that this is what makes our community special,” Aronson said. “We hope to instill this in our kids when they are young so that they can continue the work to include all as they move on to middle and high school and beyond into the world. Both students with and without disabilities gain so much from working and playing together. Students with special needs learn from their peers the skills they need to be successful, and their peers learn how much they have to offer and that they have many strengths and skills to share too. When children with special needs are included, it benefits the whole school. Statistics have shown that schools fostering this have lower reports of bullying and all kids report feeling happier at school. As they progress to the upper grades suicide and drug use rates are reduced and students with disabilities are less likely to drop out of high school.”
Frost echoed the perspective on Jeffery’s efforts at inclusion.
“It was just incredible to see the pride in the faces of our students at the Banner Award ceremony last week. They were just beaming that the Special Olympics organization would come out and recognize our whole school and every student for the kindness they display each and every day,” Frost said. “We certainly make a point that this is not a program for just students with special needs. It’s a program for all Jeffery students. The opportunities in the program are for all our kids. We really want to thank Special Olympics for the recognition, because all of our staff and all of our students work really hard at this every day. Our young learners are learning how to be kind and learning how to include everyone….so we just really appreciate the recognition and we will continue to always make this a priority every year for Jeffery School.”