Open your heart, as Las Cruces opens doors with the power of inclusive activities. This month, Sierra and Picacho Middle Schools each received national recognition as Unified Champion Schools.
In order to become Champion Schools, both schools successfully met 10 standards of excellence and are among 221 schools in the country to be named “Banner Schools” since the program’s inception in 2007.
The Unified Champion Schools program is assembled of students with special needs and their generally-developing peers.
The Unified program’s goal is to bring this diverse group of students together while giving them the opportunity to build friendships and learn, in an atmosphere of inclusion, disability awareness, acceptance, and respect.
In early October, Sierra Middle School held a flag football game in honor of becoming a Champion school. At halftime, the school was honored with a National Unified Champion School banner by Special Olympics of New Mexico and presenting sponsor ESPN.
“At the core of Unified Champion Schools is sports,” said Sierra Champion School Liaison Ramey Tapia, a low-incidence teacher at the school. “We pair students with and without disabilities together and they practice sports, build friendships, and work on leadership and communication skills.”
One of the distinguishers that Special Olympics look for in a banner school is fully-inclusive sports or fitness programs that combine an equal number of students with and without intellectual and physical disabilities. Both schools host inclusive seasonal sporting events in the fall and spring, and also offer Unified Physical Education for students who are looking to be more involved.
For its National Unified Champion banner presentation, Picacho Middle School hosted a Harry Potter-themed Quidditch match on Oct. 23. Students dressed in costumes and all participants received ribbons.
“Unified programs really highlight everything that is great about Las Cruces Public Schools,” said LCPS Superintendent Greg Ewing. “Seeing these students work together, helping others overcome challenges in an inclusive environment is incredibly heart-warming. The success of these programs is a testament to the hard work of supportive teachers and their commitment to the students they serve.”
According to New Mexico Special Olympics representative Rebecca Whitlock, 37 schools statewide hosted Unified events and activities during the 2017-2018 school year, of those, 17 were LCPS schools. More than half of the athletes with disabilities statewide are from LCPS, she added.