Learning & Inspiration at Unified Champion Schools Conference

Special Olympics Serbia was among the national programme teams that attended the recent Unified Champion Schools National Conference in San Diego, California. Milana Jeremić, General Secretary of Special Olympics Serbia, describes this important learning experience.
A group of five people stand holding a white banner that reads 'Play Unified. Learn Unified.' with the sea and blue sky in the background.

In early February, the Special Olympics Serbia team moved office for a week to San Diego, California for the Unified Champion Schools National Conference. California is certainly not a bad place to work from—and a welcome escape from wintry Serbia!

“We all shared the same goal.”

The conference provided an opportunity for national programmes implementing the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) ‘Play Unified: Learn Unified.’ project to meet and learn together. Special Olympics Serbia Director, Aleksandar Sasha Stanojevic, and I were eager to attend on behalf of our programme.

In San Diego, we met a super group of people from across the world. We all shared more or less the same goal—to make our schools more inclusive and welcoming places for all students. The conference was the perfect place for programmes, like us, who are just starting on this journey towards more inclusive education.

A group of people sitting in a sports stand face the camera holding up a white banner with the words 'Play Unified. Learn Unified' and the logos of Special Olympics and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The global team involved in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation 'Play Unified: Learn Unified' project - including Milana Jeremić, General Secretary of Special Olympics Serbia - at the Unified Champion Schools National Conference in San Diego, California.

“I have never seen anything like that before!”

There is no better way to learn about new things than to experience them first hand. Our visit to Chula Vista High School showed us a Unified Champion School if ever there was one! I can still hear the sound of the overflowing sports hall full of students cheering for the school’s Unified basketball team. I have never seen anything like that before: the banners, the songs, the cheerleaders... the school! I remember thinking, "I want a school like this back home in Serbia!" I am not talking about the perfect infrastructure that they have in San Diego—although that would be great—what I really want is the engagement of the whole school in the Unified movement. I want the banners on the stands, I want the songs, I even want the cheerleaders! I want everyone engaged.

On the way back to the hotel, Sasha and I couldn't stop chatting. Ideas just kept popping into our heads about how we could bring this movement to Serbia. We talked about how we could do this or that, how we could make this or start that… And there it was, the reason why we came here to San Diego – nothing can beat first-hand experience!

“Together we can conquer all!”

The experience at the school really inspired the ‘Play Unified: Learn Unified’ project group. It encouraged us think out loud, exchange ideas, and share our responses and challenges. Being at the conferene made our future work on the project that much easier as we had the opportunity to meet our friends and colleagues from America, Africa, Asia and Europe Eurasia. We now know that we all have same challenges, we know that we can turn to one another, and together we can conquer all!