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Community Impact

"We Are More Alike Than Different:" A Principal's Reflection on Play Unified: Learn Unified

The following is a first-hand account of the impact of the Play Unified: Learn Unified project on Dayi Special Education School in Sichuan Province, China. The school principal, Ms. Liu Sha, has worked at the school for over ten years and has witnessed the development of her students and the impact of Unified programming.

A professional portrait of Principal Liu Sha, standing against a wall.
Liu Sha, Principal of Dayi Special Education School.

As an administrator, I've always thought about the concept "we are more alike than different" and how this can help my students to be truly socially accepted and engaged both conceptually and practically.

Our school was fortunate enough to join the Special Olympics Play Unified: Learn Unified project in September 2019. In the same year, we attended the Special Olympics East Asia Unified Schools Leadership Forum, where we were trained on the concept of Unified Schools and how to bring Unified programming back to our school.

On November 27th, 2020, in collaboration with Dayi Yindu Elementary school, Dayi Special Education School hosted the 2020 Special Olympics Unified Program, an event held multiple times each year to bring together students with and without intellectual disabilities to compete in Unified Sports. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first event we were able to host in 2020.

More than 150 people from the two schools attended this event, including students, teachers, volunteers, and leaders from the Education Bureau. The early winter chill did not deter the enthusiasm of the athletes and partners, and the Unified activity began with a dynamic warm-up exercise. With the students’ claps and cheers, the Unified Sports competition began. These games are designed to make it easy for students with and without intellectual disabilities to interact and collaborate, but at the same time, the games can get very competitive!

Approximately 50 students sit and stand together in front of a Special Olympics banner, holding emoji plush pillows.
Students from an elementary school and special school in Dayi gather together for a photo after their county’s 2020 Unified Program.

Special Olympics athletes were all in high spirits and they successfully completed the activities and competitions with the encouragement and teamwork from Unified partners. Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners cooperated, helped each other, and excelled in touching scenes that won the applause of the guests, teachers, parents, and volunteers who had been shouting, cheering, and laughing all the time.

Special Olympics Unified activities build a bridge between students with and without intellectual disabilities, bringing them closer to each other and allowing Special Olympics athletes to feel the warmth and love of the society.

Seeing the Special Olympics athletes and their Unified partners working together to complete each activity, a parent, with tears in her eyes, said, "I thought the Unified partners would give up on the Special Olympics athletes, but I never imagined they wouldn’t give up at all, and would cooperate to help. They are so lovely.” When the event ended, the students held hands and spoke to each other, asking when they would be together again. On the autograph wall of the guests and volunteers, there were some words that impressed me: "As a volunteer, I should say ‘thanks’ for the touching experience the children brought to us.” "Special Olympics Unified activities connect us and let us grow together!” “ Today, we feel the joy, love, cooperation and goodwill that ‘inclusion’ has brought us, not just now, but all the time."

Currently, the school's activities are based on the ‘athlete developmental’ and ‘recreational’ models of Unified Sports. In the coming months, we will further develop these and also the 'competitive' model of Unified Sports and form Unified training teams for football and skating. All efforts are being made to build a positive, happy, and colorful communication platform for students with and without intellectual disabilities to meet, communicate, unify, and showcase their talents together.

Two elementary school-aged students crouch on the field during their Unified challenge, which includes a pile of sacks. One student focuses on the pile of sacks while the other one points at the camera.
A Unified Pair works together on one of the Unified Program’s challenges.

Special Olympics Unified activities build a bridge between students with and without intellectual disabilities, bringing them closer to each other and allowing Special Olympics athletes to feel the warmth and love of the society. We will continue to utilize Special Olympics Unified Sports as a vehicle to share the concept of "acceptance, inclusion, equality, and participation" into the hearts of all students so that they can have love in their hearts and light in their eyes. Every act of acceptance and inclusion can be scattered as a starry sky illuminating you and me and the world we live in.

Dayi Special Education School is part of the three-year Play Unified: Learn Unified Project, which aims to engage Unified Schools around the world. With support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Play Unified: Learn Unified Project has engaged 87 Unified Schools and has trained over 600 teachers and coaches in China.

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