As the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures across Chile, the National Ministry of Education desired to transition students to online learning while providing a virtual curriculum that was engaging and addressed the needs of the students. Specifically, the Ministry wanted to address the overall health, fitness and social inclusion of students who likely were facing months of isolation. In response to this need, the Ministry of Education partnered with other national Ministries and developed a task force that would engage national NGOs and partners to tackle this serious challenge.
In recognition of the incredible impact of Play Unified: Learn Unified and its ability to create connections, the Ministry of Education invited Special Olympics Chile to join the task force. Once Special Olympics Chile joined, it focused on being a strong advocate for students with intellectual disabilities, understanding that these students are often forgotten in national curriculum. With Special Olympics Chile’s leadership and expertise, the task force developed a new curriculum called “Activa Mente,” or “Active Minds,” with a goal of increasing students’ physical activity and mental focus during the pandemic.
Activa Mente is a program that builds physical breaks into lesson plans in order to interrupt sedentary behavior and stimulate active thinking. The curriculum is offered through videos and infographics shared with teachers. The initiative is grounded in evidence that mental and physical breaks during the learning process provide health benefits, improve attention, and positively impact cognitive function—traits that are always vital, but particularly so during the pandemic. The Activa Mente breaks consist of eight physical exercises lasting 20 seconds each, activating different parts of the body and requiring up to four minutes total to complete the entire cycle. Special Olympics Chile paid special attention to ensuring the exercises could accommodate all abilities—a perspective often overlooked without advocacy from Special Olympics. As the main driver of this project, Special Olympics Chile produced the materials for the national curriculum and made them inclusive by incorporating youth with disabilities into the videos.
The curriculum was first piloted in the municipality of Melipilla, in recognition of the city’s expansion of Unified Schools with the support of Play Unified: Learn Unified. Once proven successful in Melipilla, the curriculum was shared nationwide with every school director, along with recommendations for making adaptations appropriate to each school. Activa Mente has demonstrated its effectiveness in helping to keep students active and healthy during the pandemic, while also giving youth with intellectual disabilities visibility and agency through their Activa Mente leadership.
Special Olympics Chile leveraged the connections, learnings, and resources developed through Play Unified: Learn Unified to drive the creation of a national curriculum that is now having a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of Chilean students.