Northport High School’s ongoing effort to provide students with an inclusive and supportive environment has been formally recognized by the Special Olympics as a Unified Champion School. This recognition as a national banner recipient represents the ongoing work to expand Unified Sports and provide multiple opportunities for special education and general education students to work together.
Schools selected for this recognition must meet 10 national standards of excellence provided by the Special Olympics. These standards include specific parameters around Unified Sports offerings, inclusive youth leadership, whole-school engagement, and program sustainability. The application process to become a Unified Champion School also includes multiple recommendation letters from administrators, parents and students as well as photos and examples of ways the school promotes inclusivity. The district’s local chapter of Special Olympics also endorsed the school for the recognition.
An important factor in the school’s eligibility for this recognition was the addition of Unified Bowling as an official Section XI sport. While the school had been running an unofficial version of the sport for three years, the 2022-23 season marked the first as an official offering, which qualified Northport High School to apply. The Unified Basketball program has also been in place for seven seasons.
The school’s additional inclusive clubs and extracurricular opportunities, such as Best Buddies, Sparkle Squad Dance Team, Choose to Include Day celebration and more, helped the school meet the parameters for inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement. Proof that there is intent and funding to continue these programs was also required to show program sustainability.
The district’s Transition Coordinator Cassie Reilly reflected on what this recognition means for Northport High School, sharing “The recognition of becoming a National Banner School encompasses all the different areas of growth that we have had as a district to provide more inclusive opportunities for all students. The impact of these programs – Unified Sports, Best Buddies, participating in local Special Olympics – they all come together to create an environment where students of all abilities work together towards a common goal. That mentality of inclusivity then expands beyond just those opportunities into the hallways and the classrooms and the fabric of our entire community.”
Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services and Special Education Louis Bonadonna added “We are so thankful to Special Olympics, Unified Sports, Section XI, and the many teachers, coaches, counselors, support staff and administrators who have worked collaboratively to achieve this recognition. Most of all, we’re so thankful to our students, who embrace these opportunities to provide an inclusive environment and participate in these programs so that we can continue to offer them now and into the future.”
Per the Special Olympics New York press release, President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman shared “Special Olympics Unified Champion Banner Schools are ensuring all students enjoy an inclusive future,” said “It’s our privilege to honor these athletes, partners, coaches, administrators, and communities. They are the Unified Generation!”
In a letter of recommendation, Class of 2023 student Emily Regan said “I love these activities because I see the people that I love. I have been doing Unified Bowling for three years. I really like doing the bowling and being on a team.”
During the 2022-23 Unified Bowling season, partner player Wyatt Fredericks shared that he has enjoyed seeing his peers improve their bowling skills, but really sees the program as a time for everyone to have fun as group. He said “From my perspective, I think Unified Bowling and Unified Sports is just bringing everyone together, not having any stress, everyone’s having fun. It’s honestly one of my favorite things ever.”
The school will receive its banner to be hung in the gymnasium in the coming months. An unveiling event will be scheduled once a date for receipt of the banner is confirmed.