More than 500 schools across North Carolina are currently participating in Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® programming. 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. 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.
On February 18, 2022, Smithfield-Selma High School in Smithfield, North Carolina celebrated their achievement of receiving national banner recognition in September 2020. A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence. These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.
“We are very proud of our Unified program,” said Smithfield-Selma High School Principal David Allen. “We have seen great success with students of all ability levels working together. It really is amazing to see traditional barriers be removed and just allow students to be students. Unified is leading the way for our school and our culture about how all individuals have value and a sense of belonging. Smithfield-Selma High School is a place where all students are welcome.”
In addition to this recognition, they also earned the distinction of being named an ESPN Honor Roll school in 2020, which is a list of the top 25 schools from across the country – as part of its Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools National Recognition Program. Smithfield-Selma High School joins David W. Butler High School (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) and Sycamore Creek Elementary School and Wake Forest High School (Wake County Public Schools) in receiving this honor.
“Each of our schools pride themselves on creating an atmosphere of inclusivity for all students,” said Johnston County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy. “I am honored that Smithfield-Selma High School is one of four schools in the state to receive this award from Special Olympics. This recognition is a testament to the school’s dedication to give students with intellectual disabilities meaningful athletic experiences.”
The celebration day on February 18 included a Unified basketball game between faculty and students. The team of Unified students was led to victory by a go-ahead three-pointer made with 8 seconds left in the game. Halftime performances featured the Smithfield-Selma High School Unified cheerleading team and band. Between performances, Princess Bristow, Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) athlete and Smithfield-Selma High School alumna (2020), about the importance of inclusion and how it has impacted her life and the lives of her peers.
Moving forward, the staff, faculty and students of Smithfield-Selma High School will continue to implement practices of acceptance, inclusion and respect in their classrooms and on the field of play.