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Blog Posts By Special Olympics Project UNIFY

By Rebecca Ralston, Manager of Youth Leadership

On Tuesday, March 25, Special Olympics Project UNIFY staff, along with youth leaders and educators from across the country, presented to the Department of Education on the power and growth of Project UNIFY over the last year. Special Olympics athlete and youth leader Kabir Robinson from Special Olympics Washington joined Delaware youth leader Connor Moore and educators Erin Trzcinski and Tom Ledcke, from Delaware and Washington, respectively, to share their personal experiences with Project UNIFY.

Kabir’s impactful remarks are below, and you can watch the entire presentation here.

Introductory Remarks

Hi everyone. My name is Kabir Robinson. I live in Seattle, Washington. I am a member of the National Youth Activation Committee. I have been involved with Special Olympics for 3 to 4 years. I joined because I just want to be treated equally and be happy. I also want to be a better leader in sports. ...

By Lauren Hertzog

Lauren, an 18 year old, wrote this essay for her brother David, a Special Olympics athlete. This is an empowering story about one sibling’s experience and the difference her brother has made in her life.

It’s funny how the length of the bus you ride has the ability to define you as a person. Personally, I rode the regular sized bus, the one the “normal” students rode to school. However, there was another bus that happened to stop at my house every weekday morning. The short bus, "the retard racer", the bus that was transportation for my brother. Yes, my brother rode the short bus and will forever be the root of some kid’s immature joke. Or even worse, the root of some adult’s joke. My brother is defined by his transportation to school. They look past his ability to smile while making his bed every morning, or him surviving five open heart surgeries before the age of five, or his ability to say “Luve you all.” It’s all looked past because of society’s standards of perfection. ...

By Soeren Palumbo, Co-Founder, SO College and the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign

Special Olympics Project UNIFY has a transition program called SO College, which aims to bring together college students and individuals with intellectual disabilities to create a campus and community of inclusion and acceptance.

Outlined against a blue-gray November sky in the beating heart of the Southeastern Conference, two teams took to a Tuscaloosa field Saturday. The brass echoes of Yea Alabama faded with the cheers of the crowd, fans and band drawing breath in anticipation.  Before them, crimson red met royal purple in athletic tableau. 

Here, college football is a civic – if not always civil – religion.  “Roll Tide” and “Geaux Tigers” are more than team cheers; they are salutations, exclamations, sometimes even punctuations.  There are no moral victories here.  Athletic competition of young men and women, joined by the collective will of aptly-termed “fan nations,” determine the bragging rights of the coming winter, spring, and summer. ...

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. ...

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.       ...

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 Andrea Cahn and Betty Edwards

When you see me, I want you to see that we are alike.
When you see me, I want you to see that I get nervous sometimes.
When you see me, I want you to see a happy dancer.
When you see me, I want you to see a football player.
When you see me, I want you to see someone who tries to be a good friend.

The statements above are from It’s Our School, Too, a play reflecting poignant quotes and perceptions of students who for far too long have felt excluded from the fabric of the school—those with intellectual disabilities. Written by Suzy Messerole and Aamera Siddiqui and commissioned by Special Olympics Project UNIFY®, It’s Our School, Too! is based upon interviews with youth from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area and members of Special Olympics Project Unify Youth Activation Committee. The play provides insight into the world of students with intellectual disabilities and the varying opportunities they have to be an integral part of the school.

Identified as a significant civil rights issue, social inclusion speaks to the needs of all youth to learn and live within an environment that recognizes their strengths and ...