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By Morgan Lang, Unified Partner from Special Olympics Maryland 

Morgan, a high school student in Calvert County MD, recently competed in unified basketball at the Special Olympics USA Game in New Jersey. Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. The teams are comprised of similar age and ability matching of unified partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities) and Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities). Click here to learn more about Unified Sports.

Below is a poem Morgan wrote about being a unified partner and how the Special Olympics athletes have impacted her life. ...

By Terry Pickeral, Project UNIFY Senior Consultant

Through my work with Special Olympics Project UNIFY, I recently had the privilege of visiting elementary, middle and high schools throughout the nation. I was able to see how they integrate social inclusion and the impact they make on all students. The corresponding Social Inclusion Lessons From the Field report can be found by clicking here.

One of the unique characteristics of Special Olympics Project UNIFY is a focus on creating socially inclusive schools by ensuring all students are encouraged and supported to be “agents of change” where all students are capable of being leaders. All students deserve the opportunity to experience an engaging school and community environment that recognizes their gifts and shares them with others. ...

By Susie Doyens, Sargent Shriver Global Messenger

We’re continuing with our amazing stories from the new book, Stand Up! 75 Young Activists who Rock the World and How You Can, Too! from John Schlimm. You can read all about the book here.

I was born with Down syndrome. It is typical for people with Down syndrome to have intellectual disabilities and sort of look alike.

Most of my friends with Down syndrome are outgoing. They talk a lot and mix well with other people. I’m not naturally as outgoing or comfortable looking at other people or talking with them.

I have always been scared and shy. I used to never really talk. Ever. I wrote notes instead. People would talk to me and it made me feel panicky and uncomfortable. I never looked at people’s faces, only their shoes. I was afraid if I said something wrong, people would laugh at me. ...

Special Olympics youth and athlete leaders were recently featured in a new book called Stand Up! 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World and How You Can Too! from John Schlimm. You can read all about the full book here, but we also wanted to share some of the Special Olympics stories featured in the book. Stay tuned over the next few weeks to read these inspiring stories of youth changing the world through Special Olympics. And if you’re interested, you can purchase Stand Up! online.

Our first amazing story comes from youth leaders Danielle Liebl and Kaitlyn Smith… a story of true friendship! This is just a small preview, so make sure to check out the book for the full story.

The summer of 2010 is a summer that will always be remembered by the both of us. It was a summer of growth, new beginnings and cherished memories, but most importantly, it was the summer our lives intersected for the first time. That summer, Special Olympics hosted the 2010 National Youth Activation Summit in Omaha, Nebraska, which both of us attended.

Danielle was an intern while Kaitlyn participated as a Unified Partner with her friend Kathleen. We briefly met at the summit when Danielle went up to Kaitlyn’s Partner, Kathleen, to wish her a happy birthday. Little did we know that we had each just met a lifelong friend. Later that year, Kaitlyn joined Special Olympics’ National Youth Activation Committee, in which Danielle was already a member. At our first meeting in Washington, D.C., we instantly bonded over our uncontrollable laughter, similar sarcasm and sense of humor.

Our friendship was growing, and our friendship meant the world to the both of us. The comfort to be ourselves when we were around each other was proof that we were perfect friends. We never felt compelled to try to ...

By Haylie Bernacki, Specialist of Unified Sports School and College Growth, Special Olympics North America Project UNIFY 

For years, a main initiative within Special Olympics Project UNIFY schools and State Programs has been the expansion of Unified Sports, which combines individuals with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. Project UNIFY State Program staff are expanding relationships with state interscholastic associations to increase the credibility, reach, and depth of Unified Sports throughout school districts across the country. The hope is that every child will be able to play on a school sports team, regardless of their ability level. ...

You cannot just “PBIS” a child who happens to be misbehaving or acting out. That simple reality is probably one of the most important facts about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), also known as school wide positive behavioral supports (SWPBS). It’s defined as a framework for enhancing adoption and implementation of a continuum of evidence-based interventions to achieve academically and behaviorally important outcomes for all students. Through this framework, PBIS seeks to improve school climate, reduce discipline issues and support academic achievement. In mid-July, George Sugai from the Neag School of Education (also Director, Center for Behavioral Education & Research and Co-Director, Center of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) joined out-going Principal Rodney Moore from Stone Hill Middle School in Ashburn (VA) – a school that implemented PBIS – at a U.S Department of Education briefing in Washington D.C. ...

At some point in our education, we learn about the term and concept of multipliers (a third grade concept according to the Common Core State Standards). By one definition, a multiplier is “an instrument or device for multiplying or intensifying some effect.” If you have something positive, or something that is working well in your office or environment, it seems logical if you want to increase or intensify that factor. This math term is applied to the concept of school leadership in a book called The Multiplier Effect, written by Liz Wiseman, Lois Allen and Elise Foster. ...

By Jared Niemeyer

Jared is a Special Olympics Athlete and a member of the Project UNIFY National Youth Activation Committee, and for him, friendship is a blessing that he’ll never take for granted.

Friends are people who care about you, respect you, really listen to you, are thoughtful and do nice things because they want to see you smile, but most of all – you are important to them because you matter! I have some really great friends!

As a Special Olympic athlete I have a lot of friends with intellectual or developmental disabilities. We love doing things together; we care about what happens to each other, we encourage each other and look out for each other. We are friends and enjoy doing things together! Special Olympics has given us the opportunity to experience a lot that some of us would never have had the chance to do. We also play Unified Sports, so many of our teammates are also Unified partners and don’t have disabilities; we are friends and have a lot of fun working and playing together. ...

By Clement Coulston and Kaitlyn Smith

Clement Coulston and Kaitlyn Smith are members of the Special Olympics Project UNIFY National Youth Activation Committee. They were recently asked to co-author one of the 11 Practice Briefs, focusing on School Climate and Inclusion.

Often times when society thinks of “valuable contributors” to issues, discussions and insights, the first image that appears in their mind is one of a well-educated and experienced adult; very rarely is that intuition one of a young person. Youth are constantly told and often led to believe that they are “the leaders of tomorrow,” but what about today? Youth are the ones in the schools, collaborating with educators, and hold the power to make a change. ...

By Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., General Counsel/Associate Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA)

The one common thread from the many perspectives on school bullying is that advocates on all sides care deeply about kids. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is determined to protect students' Constitutional rights and their rights to an education in a safe school environment. But those rights hold an inherent tension that at times collides.

So how can we find a middle ground?

We're encouraged by a set of guidelines that show ways public school students can safely share their views and engage in discussions about religious and political differences in environments that prohibit discrimination, bullying, and ...

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