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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 ...

Those of us who have spent our professional lives working in public education have come to expect that articles written about schools that contain advice for both parents and the educators who work with students will focus on pointing out what’s wrong with schools and those who work in them and generally be negative in tone and wrong with the advice.  So, it was a pleasant surprise to read an article in the August 11, 2013, Parade, the magazine distributed across the country as an insert in Sunday newspapers, entitled “Building a Better School Day.”  Since schools across the country started this week (joining the many that kicked off classes in August), I thought it a good time to reiterate the seven great ideas the article proposed:

  • Begin the day with breakfast—We don’t usually think that schools should be responsible for feeding students more than one meal a day (lunch); however, studies have shown that an increasing number of kids arrive at school without having had breakfast, for a variety of reasons – some young children from poor homes can’t afford it, and some older students sleep in and just skip the meal.  Research has shown that “breakfast consumption may improve cognitive function and school attendance,” and breakfast in the classroom provides an opportunity to ...

By Erica Lue, Advocacy Coordinator, National PTA

Since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, many schools have struggled to find ways to meet the act's rigorous assessment standards. One avenue schools have been taking to find time for more academics is to cut out physical education classes and recess. Another approach has been to withhold time allotted for physical activity as a punishment for poor classroom behavior, or for extra tutoring time for struggling students. While estimates on cutbacks to school recess differ while accommodating a more vigorous academic curriculum, what is certain is that the trend is on the rise. With the troubling statistics regarding childhood obesity, health experts, educators, and parents are expressing concern that cutting recess will further contribute to weight and health problems without actually improving academic performance. ...

By Jim Bender, Executive Director, NEA Health Information Network

I suspect that most of us have never heard the sound of a child with whooping cough. We may never have seen a child covered with chickenpox or swollen from the mumps. So we forget that every year children still contract these preventable diseases and get very sick, and some may die.

So far, 2013 has seen major outbreaks of measles in New York and North Carolina. There also have been major outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) in Texas, Oregon, Washington, and other states.

Educators and schools can play an important role in helping families get the immunizations they need. 

All members of the school community—educators, education support staff, administrators, and parents—can help to carry the message of immunization for students and adults.  Advocacy for Vaccines from NEA Health Information Network provides an overview of what you can do to help build support in your school.  ...

By Brian Quinn, Manager of Youth Education & Unified Sports® for Special Olympics North America Project UNIFY 

Take a quick moment to think back to your high school experience. I did this recently, reflecting on the upcoming school year, and it brought up some telling thoughts.  Look away from this article and think for a moment about what you remember.  If you are anything like me, your first thoughts were about specific experiences (positive or negative) and the people who influenced us.  Not so much about tests, papers and homework.

A vivid memory that stays with me is when I got to play one-on-one basketball with Kenny, a student who had an intellectual disability.  He happened to have an adapted physical education session which would sometimes take place adjacent to my general education PE class.  As a freshman and sophomore, I had a difficult time socializing and was not excited about school.  My grades were below average, and I lacked connectivity to my large school environment.  In hindsight, I was a classic case in underachieving.       ...

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. ...

There is precious little research demonstrating the value of school counselors on student achievement, with good reason – it is difficult to demonstrate the impact of counselors on standardized test scores, which have come to define achievement in recent years. But as a result, when it comes to making tough budget decisions, school counselors are not a priority. And that has real consequences for children. As Mindy Willard, an Arizona school counselor named the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) 2013 School Counselor of the Year, pointed out in a recent interview:

[T]he biggest challenge school counselors are faced with right now, on all levels, are our ratios. Currently, Arizona is 49th in the nation for counselor to student ratios with a ratio of 1 counselor to 861 students; ASCA recommends a ratio of 1:250! With numbers like this it is virtually impossible for school counselors to meet all of the personal/social, academic and career developmental needs of all the students on their caseloads.

But as we turn to new measures of school quality – such as the production of college and career ready students – there is new space for advocates to research and promote the benefits of school counselors. And an ongoing longitudinal study in ...

It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to acknowledge that humans are complex beings; how often does a friend, colleague or family member do something you perceive to be simply inexplicable? Given our diverse nature, it should come as no surprise that educating children is not an exact science; each one is unique. Ultimately, they are the result of their background, family and economic circumstances, and life experiences. A student’s potential and capacity for achievement rests with our country’s capacity to recognize and respond to these systemic challenges, perhaps even embrace them, to support the whole child. Consider the following statistics highlighting the challenges our country faces: ...

The economy may be slowly improving, but many families and children are still struggling to get by in communities across the country. Economic insecurity increases childhood stress and negatively affects a student's ability to focus and be present in the classroom. School counselors are on the front lines when it comes to supporting students through this and other challenges ranging from incidents of bullying, issues at home, academic struggles, and depression and anxiety, to name just a few.

Recently, Mindy Willard, the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA's) 2013 National Counselor of the Year, was kind enough to share her insights and experience with Public School Insights (PSI). She has created a counseling program at Sunset Ridge Elementary School that serves all its 650 students through a range of activities and interventions. She also provided specific goals, interventions and results from the program, highlighting how such efforts support student health and learning. And, as the National Counselor of the Year, she shared some of her thoughts on the challenges counselors face, important facts to highlight in advocacy efforts and what she's looking forward to doing this year in her national role. 

Public School Insights (PSI): First, congratulations on being named the 2013 ASCA School Counselor of the Year. And thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions about your work and the value of school counselors. Could you share with us what drew you to counseling?

Willard: I always knew I wanted to work with people, children in particular; it wasn’t until college when I discovered the idea of becoming a school counselor. I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and quickly realized there was not a whole lot I could do with that degree. I began exploring my options, spending summers working with children in juvenile detention facilities and group homes. I discovered I really wanted to ...

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. ...

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