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Community Impact

Breaking Down Barriers: Special Olympics Jamaica's Story

On Windsor Road in Spanish Town, Jamaica, two schools on the same street are separated by a chain-link fence.

Although located next to each other, the two schools—Windsor School of Special Education and McAuley Primary School—not only have a physical barrier between them, but they are also socially divided.

The Windsor School of Special Education serves students with intellectual disabilities (ID), and McAuley Primary School is a mainstream school. Even though students from Windsor and McAuley often live in the same neighborhoods, social norms on disabilities—influenced by stigma and a lack of resources—have prevented students at the two schools from interacting with one another.

Recently, Windsor and McAuley, with the support of Special Olympics Jamaica, helped break down this societal barrier between the two schools. Special Olympics Jamaica recruited both schools to join its Unified Champion Schools program, which brings together students with and without ID through sports. The Unified Champion Schools program in Jamaica is supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), and students participate in sport competition, educational and youth leadership projects, and other activities.

Since becoming Unified Champion Schools, students from Windsor and McAuley have journeyed through an opened gate on the fence that previously divided them. Students have played each other in friendly games of football, and in most cases, these matches have been the first time that students from Windsor and McAuley have interacted with one another.

At a recent match, Sheneel, a student at Windsor, met Derrico, a student at McAuley. Sheneel is a talented athlete with a larger-than-life personality; she wants to get to know people outside of her school. Derrico is shy and witty; he wants to improve his playing skills with new friends.

Sheneel and Derrico played football together, and after getting to know one another, struck up a friendship. Although Sheneel and Derrico are different, they share a lot of similar interests. They both love to dance, play sports and even have the same favorite school subject—language arts. Both Sheneel and Derrico and many of their classmates are looking forward to playing football together again soon.

The story of Sheneel and Derrico is just one example of the impact Unified Champion Schools can make in a community. Throughout Jamaica, Unified Champion Schools address a need for spaces where differences are accepted and embraced; this extends to students of all abilities, not just those with ID.

A study conducted in the past decade by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Jamaica’s Child Protection and Family Services Agency determined that nearly 65 percent of students in Jamaica have been bullied.
Unified Champion Schools have been proven to create inclusive environments for all students. In 2022, 94 percent of schools evaluated in a study of four countries reported that Unified Champion Schools made a big impact in reducing bullying, teasing, and offensive language in their schools. In the same study, 90 percent of students from mainstream schools in two countries reported their behavior changed because of Unified Champion Schools.

With 18 mainstream and special education schools in its Unified Champion Schools program, Special Olympics Jamaica is leading the development of inclusive communities across the entire island. Parents of students both with and without ID, like Sheneel and Derrico, have shared that Unified Champion Schools provide opportunities for families to strengthen relationships with each other and raise awareness of the benefits of inclusion.

Unified Champion Schools make everyone feel welcomed. Much like the fence that opened between Windsor and McAuley in Spanish Town, inclusion can help break down the stigma around ID in their communities and promote a culture of empathy and acceptance for people of all abilities.


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