Hundreds of students from Clark County School District schools gathered for a day of Unified Soccer, skills competitions and social activities on a beautiful October day in Las Vegas.
Students in special education joined their classmates in general education to compete in games and run through a variety of drills and competitions. Special Olympics Unified Sports is a unique endeavor which brings these two student populations together to play as teammates, fostering an environment of inclusion, respect and understanding.
“We play a lot of games where all of the kids are on a level playing field,” said Leslie Wright, an English teacher at Desert Oasis High School. “We make the necessary modifications to allow all of the kids to have fun together. They love supporting and cheering for each other and they really get to become friends and learn how to get along with each other.”
Students in general education had the opportunity to compete in the games, volunteer in running certain skills stations and were matched with a classmate in special education for the day. The interactions were beneficial to both parties and allowed the students to engage with one another in a fun and active environment.
“Probably the coolest thing is that everybody gets to have a partner,” said one general education student. “No matter if you’re not able to do something, you can always end up still being able to do it.”
Unified Sports not only engages students on the playing field, but also lays the groundwork for friendships and inclusion on campus. In many situations, students in special and general education classes rarely have an opportunity to connect with one another.
“Usually, we just look at them as the people who have to be separated into different classes. When in reality, they’re normal people just like us.”
Another Unified Partner agreed.
“Before this, I didn’t even see them,” she said. “But after [Unified Sports], I was participating with them, I was joining clubs that they were included in… and it was really nice.”
The Special Olympics Nevada (SONV) Schools Partnership Program is a unique sports and education initiative that is active in more than 100 public K-12 schools, positively impacting 6,500 students in special education and general education programs. Through Unified Sports®, SONV brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities to compete as teammates; while also supporting whole-school involvement activities and awareness campaigns to help build inclusion, respect and acceptance on campuses at an early age.