BURRILLVILLE – The Special Olympics has selected Burrillville High School as a National Banner Unified Champion School in recognition of its program bringing together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities, and its inclusive and collaborative climate.
The school was one of only five in Rhode Island to receive the honor, given to schools that meet ten national standards of excellence developed by a panel of educators and leaders in the organization. The school will receive a physical banner acknowledging the honor, to be hung in the gymnasium.
Unified programs operate under the central principal that team sports bring people together. Currently, more than 4,500 elementary, middle and high schools in the United States take part in unified sports, with programs that aim to break down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a way that’s also fun.
Burrillville High School athletes take part in two unified teams: volleyball and basketball. The unified club also meets weekly for activities including movie nights and seasonal projects such as dying Easter eggs, or pumpkin painting. The number of students attending the weekly meetings varies, with some attracting just a handful and others bringing out more than 20 students.
The school has also sent volunteers to the state’s winter and summer games.
“Our group remains open to anyone and everyone who wants to join,” said Principal Michael Whaley.
According to criteria set out by the Special Olympics, a 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.”
Supt. Michael Sollitto congratulated the students on the honor, which will be formally announced, and the banner unveiled, to the school community at a ceremony in March, in conjunction with the group’s “Spread the Word to End the World” campaign.