They choose to include: BHS named Special Olympics National Banner School for second consecutive term

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BURRILLVILLE – When Burrillville High School teacher Greg Hogan explained to a class of students what it means to be a Special Olympics National Banner Unified Champion School, he notes their reaction was to ask, “shouldn’t that just be how it is everywhere?”

The designation is reserved for schools that not only host Unified Sports programs – where students with and without disabilities train and compete together – but also demonstrate inclusivity throughout the student body, including leadership roles.

While Hogan’s students were right that such practices should always be the norm, advocates know life isn’t always how it should be for those who are differently abled. The Special Olympics program set out to change that by devising standards to measure a school’s commitment to inclusion, and to creating a culture where all students are always welcomed to participate.

And it seems BHS is nailing it.

On Friday, April 26, students celebrated earning the national banner title for the second consecutive year, while also pointing to some other noteworthy achievements. The school, which has two unified teams and a club that meets weekly, raised $4,182 with the Unified Plunge this year, and two students – Brooke Allen and Jackson Landry – were chosen to represent Rhode Island’s program on a national level with a trip to Washington, DC.

“It was impactful,” Landry told NRI NOW.

A senior who has participated in the school’s unified program for the past four years, Landry spoke before the student body, pointing to his athletic feats with the two BHS teams as a past MVP in volleyball, three-time MVP in basketball, and winner of both All State Honors and a sportsmanship award. He was one of many to students to express gratitude for the opportunities the BHS unified program has offered, both on and off the courts.

Student Jesse Harper recalled scoring points with the volleyball team.

“It made me so happy to be able to share that moment with my friends and teammates,” he said. Harper noted that at unified games, “we are kind to each other and respect all of the other players.”

Wearing t-shirts that read, “see the able, not the label,” students and staff attended the pep rally-style gathering, and listened as pairs of unified players, with and without disabilities, testified to the impact it’s had on their high school experience.

“This team and unified in general has meant so much to me and Jesse,” said student Spencer Wayland.

“I love playing with everyone on the team,” said Olivia Houle. “Throughout this, we have created relationships that we’ll never forget.”

“Unified has completely shaped my high school experience,” said Allen. “I am so happy I have had a chance to be a part of it.”

President and CEO of Special Olympics Rhode Island Ed Pacheco, a BHS graduate himself, accompanied Allen and Landry on the trip to D.C., where the students visited with legislators to advocate on behalf of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“They were completely up to the task and knocked it out of the park,” said Pacheco of the Bronco students. “Their willingness to step up and embrace those roles is amazing They’re a testament to all three components of the unified program.”

From left are Brooke Allen, Ed Pacheco and Jackson Landry.

In addition to meeting 10 standards of excellence in Unified Sports, banner schools must demonstrate inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement.

“It is a decent amount of effort – and paperwork,” said Hogan.

“Obviously, Burrillville is embracing all of the aspects of the unified champion program,” said Pacheco. “Burrillville does an amazing job.”

English teacher and BHS Special Olympics liaison Charlene Walsh, physical education teacher and unified coach Sandra Schuetz, and assistant unified coach Jaycie Columbo were among those to join unified athletes on the football field Friday to re-iterate commitment to the inclusion pledge.

“I pledge to look for the lonely, the isolated, the left out, the challenged and the bullied,” the students said. “I pledge to overcome the fear of difference and replace it with the power of inclusion.”

“I choose to include.”

Students presented flowers to their unified advisors, school liaison Charlene Walsh, coach
Sandra Schuetz and asst. coach Jaycie Columbo.
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1 COMMENT

  1. Choose to Include! Burrillville has been doing just that for 20+ years. Our daughter was included from age 3 – age 21 when she graduated. It was very important to us when she was young and the favorite part of her life. She still talks about her years in BMS and BHS. Thank you for keeping it going for others.

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