Across Taiwan, teachers focus on cultivating the “holistic person” and offering ways for all students to grow and mature into well-rounded individuals. Much of this process hinges on creating an environment that encourages learning and provides all students an opportunity to spotlight their innate abilities.
In New Taipei Municipal WenShan Junior High School, creating this learning environment for all students was a challenge teachers faced every day. This inclusive school serves students with and without disabilities. While the students attend the same school, they have long been segregated into mainstream and special classrooms, which inhibited their interactions and erected a barrier to students’ social development. Throughout the school day, students with and without disabilities had almost no connection—they learned in different classrooms, they ate at different lunch tables, and they participated in separate sporting events. Many teachers, however, aspired to offer a learning environment that was more inclusive, generating opportunities for students with and without disabilities to build relationships.
When Play Unified: Learn Unified launched in New Taipei City in 2019, Special Olympics Chinese Taipei leveraged a relationship with the Taipei City Department of Education to connect with two teachers from New Taipei Municipal WenShan Junior High School. Jing-Hui Lai and Jhu-Jyun Ciou are special education teachers focused on providing as many opportunities as possible for their students with disabilities. After training on Unified Sports, Ms. Lai and Ms. Ciou were equipped to bring together students who had not previously connected because of social pressures, stigma, and physical barriers.
The teachers launched an eight-week Unified physical education class, giving students the chance to learn alongside their peers with different abilities. Once the Unified physical education course proved to be a success, the teachers set out to create unity in multiple aspects of the school. Ms. Lai’s and Ms. Ciou’s students now enjoy a wide range of Unified activities, such as tug-of-war, school assemblies, singing competitions, races, and more. The teachers note that Play Unified: Learn Unified “eliminates the distance between the average and special education students.” The teachers notice that now all the students eat lunch together, and students without disabilities visit their friends in special education classes to greet them and chat. Special education students feel more supported and welcomed by others in their school community, and as a result they are more active in class and sporting events.
Through Play Unified: Learn Unified, Ms. Lai and Ms. Ciou create Unified activities that achieve their goal of developing all students holistically. As the students experience learning alongside those with different abilities, they are developing the skills and mindsets they will use as adults to understand and advocate an inclusive society beyond the classroom.