For a half-century SHAPE America and Special Olympics have created a bond that has inspired inclusive physical education (PE) programs throughout the Special Olympics North America Region. In Minnesota a school district and school are looking to set the standard of what to expect in the classroom and how it should be showcased in the hallways.
Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® brings students with and without intellectual disabilities together through inclusive opportunities (like inclusive PE) and encourages them to be agents of change in their schools and communities.
At Aquila Elementary School, located in Minnesota’s St. Louis Park Public School District, the lessons learned through inclusion are a focal point. Teaching Unified PE, Tom Roberts, Current Past President of MNSHAPE and Physical Education Specialist, says “this class has taught our students to be more empathetic, kind, and aware of our students with disabilities.”
To date, schools that have adopted the Unified PE concepts have indicated that their student body has become more accepting of all students, and more likely to celebrate individual differences.
“We will continue to pursue school-wide initiatives that promote inclusion, equity, awareness, and kindness,” Roberts adds, recognizing it is a continually moving project.
SHAPE America is the nation’s largest nonprofit membership organization of health and physical education professionals. Founded in 1885, the organization has defined excellence in physical education throughout grade school. SHAPE America has a long relationship with Special Olympics, serving as an endorsing organization for the first Special Olympics Games in 1968.
Through the renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Special Olympics, SHAPE America will assist educators in the implementation of inclusive sports and fitness through Unified PE, a key component of the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® program.
Both organizations will work together for training and providing supporting resources around year-round activity, physical education, and health promotion. “We are eager to build on our existing partnership with SHAPE America and expand current inclusive wellness programming,” says Andrea Cahn, Vice President of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools®. “Our collaboration will undoubtedly support students on their journey toward lasting health and physical literacy and we look forward to the impact this will have on future generations.”
Because of the push to have inclusive PE classes, Aquila Elementary School has seen rapid success. "During year two we have also looked at being more inclusive in all school settings," Roberts says. "Students with different abilities now eat lunch with their grade level tables as opposed to sitting at their own separate table." These life-enriching friendships positively influence students of all abilities.
Interested educators should contact their Special Olympics Program to determine how Unified PE could be part of their school’s curriculum.