A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting a Unified Champion School banner to Vista Middle School in Las Cruces. This school is the only middle school in our country right now to have earned one of these banners. That would put New Mexico #1 on a list of something to celebrate. Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho is one of 41 High Schools to hang a banner. If you aren’t familiar with the Unified Champion School concept – the banner represents having demonstrated a commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence, which were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community. The long and short of it is – these schools do more than “say” they are inclusive – students with and without disabilities play sports together, develop student leadership together, and involve the entire school creating an inclusive culture.
The day I presented the banner Vista Middle School was hosting a four-school unified basketball tournament. The gymnasium was packed -there were cheerleaders everywhere- trophies were displayed for all to see- and the students were hugging, laughing, and seemingly happy to be there and not in class.
Having taught mid-school for four years of my life, I felt pretty comfortable, and as I wandered around the gym, I noticed everyone else seemed comfortable. It was inclusion – not something wildly special or a one time deal. It was special education students hanging out with regular education students- playing basketball together – messing around together – creating drama together. Key word here? Together.
Hats off to the leadership of schools who create real opportunities to learn and be together. Hats off to the students of this generation who are willing to take the time to figure each other out. Hats off to anyone who sees and believes THIS IS THE WAY IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE.