Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Blog Posts By Special Olympics Project UNIFY

Written by Anderson Williams, a Special Olympics Project UNIFY consultant

Years ago while backpacking through Europe with some friends, I visited the Palazzo Spada in Rome. It must have been something we read about in “Let’s Go Europe” because otherwise I’m not sure how we got there.
 
Anyway, Palazzo Spada is famous for its incredible forced perspective gallery created by Francesco Borromini. In the midst of the density and limited space in the heart of Rome, the gallery gives a momentary sense of depth and grandeur akin to what one might find in a much larger country estate. It has an 8-meter long corridor that appears to be a considerably more grand 37 meters. Its centerpiece and visual destination is a “life-sized” sculpture that is actually only 60 centimeters tall.
 
It sounded crazy, so we were definitely intrigued! ...

In our March 2015 blog, we focused on what creative tension means in the context of relationships between young people and adults in our schools. We outlined core principles and assumptions that are critical for this work, and discussed how the roles for young people and adults shift in the creative tension model.

This blog presents a series of real-world examples that demonstrate the use of a creative tension in carrying out intergenerational work within the school context. There are a few key ideas to keep an eye on. First, each example shows youth and adults working toward shared goals, with young people being viewed as meaningful contributors and partners in the process. Second, supporting their shared goals, you will see how personal goals and aspirations align with and support their collective work. Finally, each values the other’s experiences, perceptions, skills, beliefs, and ideas and understands that they are critical to achieving personal and shared goals. ...

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants 

In our February 18 blog, we clarified the distinction between creative tension and destructive tension as they relate to our relationships and our work in schools. And, our example was focused on the relationships among adults in a school.

In this blog, we focus on what creative tension means specifically for the relationship between young people and adults in our schools. For starters, we cannot develop real creative tension unless we change the way we see young people and their role in education.

What would happen if we decided our students were our partners in education, rather than mere recipients of it? What if we believed they had something to teach us? To teach each other? What if our goals were shared goals and our accountability collective? What if education were intergenerational work?

How would this change the relationships between students and adults in a school? ...

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants

The problem with public education is that there isn’t enough tension. The other problem with public education is that there’s too much tension. And, perhaps the biggest problem is that both of these are correct, and we don’t distinguish between creative tension and destructive tension. 

Without distinguishing between the two, we cannot intentionally build structures and relationships that create the systems our students need: systems of shared leadership, strategic risk-taking and mutual responsibility. Systems of creative tension. Instead, we more commonly build top-down structures that generate destructive tension and bottom-up structures to avoid, relieve, or push back against them. ...

By Terry Pickeral, Project UNIFY Senior Education Consultant

I recently co-facilitated a webinar sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) titled Social Inclusion: An Opportunity for Principal Leadership.

My co-facilitators included Steven Bebee, principal Cactus Shadows High School (AZ), Bill Schreiber, principal Granite Falls Middle School (NC) and Barbara Oswald, Special Olympics South Carolina.

It was a privilege to share and learn from these local and national leaders on how principals lead their schools to integrate and sustain social inclusion.

While US schools understand physical inclusion (ensuring all students have equitable access to facilities, services and activities) and academic inclusion (engaging diverse students in the teaching-learning process of the general education classroom) there is less familiarity with social inclusion ...

By Tom Ledcke, Special Education Teacher, Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Washington

The challenge of inclusion for students with disabilities has been an ongoing conversation in education. For students in my high school, inclusion has primarily meant physical inclusion only -- students with disabilities attended general education classes with typical peers. However, during lunch and after school they were usually alone and isolated from the usual social experiences that their typical peers enjoyed. My students practiced social fluency skills like eye contact and small talk in the classroom, but they never had the chance to put these skills into action by making true friendships. Participating in team sports or landing a part in the school play was only a dream. While I don't think it was ever out of malice or hatred, ignorance towards the students with intellectual disabilities ensured my students were left out of things and never integrated into the fabric of our school community -- and like any other student who feels isolated or alone, my students could feel that they were "outsiders." ...

Danielle Liebl, a former Special Olympics Project UNIFY National Youth Activation Committee Member from Minnesota, recently established her own non-profit - DIFFERbilities Experience. An extraordinary individual, Danielle has dedicated her life to make a difference for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

The following blog post was written by Danielle for the DIFFERbilities Experience Blog and shared here with permission.

At the age of six years old, I can recall my mom and dad asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always responded, “An orthopedic surgeon at Gillette.” You may be wondering how on earth does a six year old know what an orthopedic surgeon is? When you have cerebral palsy, not only do you see a lot of doctors, you also become very familiar with their titles. At the age of six, my primary doctor was an orthopedic surgeon and I thought he was the coolest! This dream of being an orthopedic surgeon lasted until sophomore year in high school, when biology class was required and I found out it is not my cup of tea. I believe my parents let out a huge sigh of relief when they realized there would be no lawsuits in the future. They always feared that I would have a spasm and accidentally put someone’s femur bone in their rib cage.

Although I realized that a career as a surgeon may not be for me, I still knew I wanted to help people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. I decided instead of forcing myself to like biology, I should focus on something I was passionate. In high school I was very involved in Special Olympics. Through this tremendous organization, I was able to find my voice, my confidence and my passion. No longer was I the girl with cerebral palsy; instead, I was a respected human being ...

By Kaitlyn Smith

Kaitlyn Smith served three years on the Project UNIFY National Youth Activation Committee and she is a current student at the University of Northern Colorado. Kaitlyn has been involved with Special Olympics for eight years and is an advocate for inclusion and acceptance for all.

On Thursday July 31st, my Special Olympics adventures took me to a new place: The White House.

 President Obama and the First Lady graciously offered to host a dinner in Celebration of the Special Olympics Unified Generation, and I was beyond honored and humbled to be invited to take part in the celebration. Throughout the evening I had the opportunity to speak with amazing individuals, such as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Jordin Sparks, Jason Derulo, Michelle Kwan, Maria Shriver, constituents from ESPN and Coke, and the list goes on. We were served an immaculate meal, and the evening ended with an amazing private performance by Katy Perry. ...

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. ...