Unified Champions brings all student athletes together

A new Dripping Springs High elective is offering all students the ability to work together and learn from each other in a supportive and interactive environment.

Unified Champions, which is tied with Unified Champions in Schools, a program offered by Special Olympics, partners special and general education students in a way that promotes acceptance and inclusion, according to a district press release.

Together, students engage in advocacy, leadership, fitness and sports opportunities. It is a student-driven program that includes planning and hosting events and activities. During “Unified Champions Week,” which was held Nov. 26-30, students in the program participated in lunchtime activities to promote student interactions and an end-of-the-week pep rally.

Based on the theme of inclusion, students of varying abilities participate in every opportunity as peers and equals, with the goal of forming true friendships and capitalizing on the unique talents and abilities of each person, according to the release. During class, students receive lessons on topics such as inclusion, awareness and advocacy, while enjoying fitness and sports opportunities.

“This is another elective class that these students choose to take, and it has a sports emphasis,” Coach Daniel Foster, a Unified Champions teacher, said. “Students come in here and they’re part of a team, and they have participated in bowling, volleyball and right now we’re doing basketball.”

Dripping Springs Sophomore Carter King said the class has brought a new level of understanding between those who participate.

“For me this class has been outstanding; both the typically developing students and the students with disabilities have taught me so much about life that I would’ve never learned if I was not a part of this class,” King said.

In addition to the regular class time, some students also entered in the Special Olympic Area Bowling Tournament Nov. 3. Eight students participated in the “Unified Doubles” competition, which includes one Special Olympics athlete with a Unified partner. This is the first time Dripping Springs has entered the Unified competition.

“They’re becoming one, they’re teammates; it’s a family thing,” Foster said. “Our students thought they would be teaching our special-needs kids, but now they’re saying ‘Coach, they’re teaching me so much.’”

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