Rio de Janiero, Brazil—Over 200 students and teachers from four local schools—Professor Ubirajara Ferreira Municipal School, Prof. Joaquim de Freitas Municipal School, Carlos Pereira Neto Municipal School and Nelson Carneiro Municipal School—received recognition from ESPN and Special Olympics as the country’s first group of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools. This landmark moment marks the first recognition of Unified Champion Schools outside of the United States.
In order to become a Unified Champion School, each of the four schools committed to ten standards of excellence outlined by Brazil in three categories: Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement.
ESPN Brazil Journalist, Ruebens Pozzi joined the momentous event and left the students and teachers with this sentiment, “Life is easier when you have a team. When you come to Special Olympics, you are not just coming to play or learn, but you are also leaving with a different mindset."
Also in attendance was Special Olympics Youth Leader and recent participant in the Global Youth Leadership Summit, Jorge Adriano, who spoke directly to the students about his experience in Judo and using that as a tool for inclusion.
“In school it was very difficult to talk to people, but once I was introduced to Judo in school it changed everything. Special Olympics Judo has taught me how to trust myself, and made myself more confident in school. More importantly, I was introduced to my Unified partner who helped me be the person who I am today,” says Jorge.
To kick-off and shake-off the event, all four schools were invited to come down to the gym floor to participate in Unified Zumba. After students and teachers merenge marched back into the stands, remarks were given to inspire this new Unified Generation in Brazil. Before a Unified Relay Race was to begin, each school received a plaque recognizing their pledge to include. The event concluded with students and teachers cheering their new battlecry, “Play Unified. Learn Unified.”
Since 2018, Special Olympics Brazil has been growing Unified Schools programming in Pernambuco, San Paolo, and Rio de Janiero with over 100 schools becoming Unified Schools. In partnership with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Special Olympics Brazil has been able to expand upon this in Pernambuco and Rio de Janiero with over 26 schools becoming Unified Schools—four of which are now recognized as Unified Champion Schools. Throughout the world, the partnership will expand the reach and impact of Unified Schools programming, resulting in approximately 2,000 new Unified Schools for the movement.