A group of seven educators and youth leaders represented Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) at the first-ever Unified Champion City Schools® Summit in Detroit, Michigan, August 4-6. In addition to planning for the future of Unified Champion City Schools, more than 25 state Programs attending the Summit were able to learn more about Unified leadership, network and share their experiences.
The attendees from SONC included:
- Darius Darden, Special Olympics U.S. Youth Ambassador – David W. Butler High School
- Deborah Deeg, Adult Mentor, Health/PE and Unified Lifetime Sports PE Teacher – David W. Butler High School
- Larenda Denien, Principal – Idlewild Elementary School
- Renai Lilly, Special Olympics North Carolina Director of Inclusive Schools
- Tracey Pickard, Principal – Hopewell High School
- Jamey Petrucci, Adapted PE Consulting Teacher – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
- Devoria Thorpe, Career & Technical Education Teacher – Hopewell High School
- Isaiah Woodson, Special Olympics U.S. Youth Ambassador – David W. Butler High School
“It was very exciting for me and a great learning experience,” said Darius Darden. “I had a chance to connect with other people who are just as enthusiastic about Special Olympics and inclusion as I am.”
As Special Olympics U.S. Youth Ambassadors, Darden and Isaiah Woodson “act as advocates, share stories, and demonstrate the values of Inclusive Youth Leadership across the country.” Each new class of Youth Ambassadors has the opportunity to learn more about honing their leadership skills through training and engagement implemented on the national level.
During the Summit, the Unified pair recalled their training by co-emceeing the Summit and helping to facilitate sessions.
“This opportunity has put me in the spotlight,” expressed Woodson. “That can make me feel concerned because it can be hard to take the initiative to be in the spotlight. Before this, I was being shy, but now I am full of energy. I’m proud of who I am becoming! So, I’m here to encourage other youth leaders to step out and take the initiative.”
According to Renai Lilly, SONC Director of Inclusive Schools, one of the greatest takeaways from the Summit was the importance of collaboration and empowering youth to use their voices. As noted, the SONC delegation consisted of staff representation from PE, Adapted PE, and career and technical education departments, as well as principals and administrators within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. As the delegation worked to develop a strategic plan for the school district together, it was important to have Darden and Woodson’s voices in the decision-making process.
“We learned so much from each other by listening to and understanding various perspectives and ideas,” explained Lilly. “I am excited for the opportunity to educate other Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district staff about the Unified Champion City Schools initiative and increase collaboration that is happening within schools and amongst district leadership to push the initiative forward in Charlotte.”