Seekonk High School Sparks an Inclusion Revolution
SHS Named National Champion School for Unified Programs
Seekonk High School recently received national recognition from Special Olympics International and Special Olympics Massachusetts for its Unified Sports Program and inclusive activities for students.
The school was named a Special Olympics National Banner Unified Champion School and presented with an honorary banner. Seekonk High received the honor for their commitment to inclusion, advocacy and respect. SHS was one of only 16 schools across the country to be named a National Banner School. “Personally, I am so proud of our staff and students. All the students are excited about this honor and recognition. The enthusiasm this program generates is contagious,” said Kristin Nelson, Seekonk High School Unified Program Coordinator, and Coach.
In addition, Hasbro sponsored Seekonk High School’s National Banner Unveiling Assembly on December 12 when the entire school, as well as honored guests and representatives from Special Olympics and Hasbro took part in a special ceremony to celebrate the honor.
The Unified banner was unveiled and hung among other banners recognizing sports excellence in the school’s gymnasium. “I could not be happier that Seekonk High School was named a National Banner School, nor could I be more proud of the student body and staff,” Ben Gibbons, Unified Basketball Coach and Special Education Teacher, said.
This is the first year that Hasbro has sponsored the National Banner Unified presentations and Seekonk was one of only four other schools in the country chosen. The company has been a sponsor of Special Olympics International since 2016. The assembly was aligned with Hasbro’s annual Global Day of Joy where employees spend a day volunteering in the community.
The Unified team was also honored at a recent Seekonk School Committee meeting where Superintendent Richard Drolet, Special Education Director Susan Doe and committee members commended the students for their efforts and presented them with certificates of recognition from the town and citations from State Representative Steven Howitt.
School-wide Celebration Held
At the school assembly, the excitement and pride was evident among the students and staff as the band played, and the crowd cheered and waved flags to recognize the Unified team. Speakers included former athletic director Fred Crippen, Hasbro Chairman and CEO Brian Goldner, and Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver. “What an amazing journey for a program only in its fifth year of existence,” said Crippen. He added that after serving 35 years as coach and athletic director at SHS and helping students win many awards, the Unified Champion School banner is the one he is most proud of. “It’s amazing to see what you have accomplished,” said Goldner.
Shriver told the students that six million Special Olympics athletes from 190 countries all over the world were symbolically celebrating along with the Seekonk students. “They’re all here because you’ve won the recognition that they admire the most … and that they all over the world believe in the most – the recognition of being a leader in the inclusion revolution,” Shriver said.
Guidance Counselor Jodi LeDuc, on behalf of the high school’s Positive Behavior Committee, recognized more than 30 students who were nominated for Warrior Pride Awards. Four students – one from each class – were chosen as the Warrior Pride winners and received gift baskets from Hasbro. They were: Manny Soares, (9th grade), Ethan Clarke (10th), Kyle Oliveria (11th), and Lyla Carvalho (12th).
The SHS Community Chooses to Include
The National Banner program recognizes schools whose staff and students go beyond the three components of Unified Champion Schools (Unified Sports, Whole School Engagement, and Youth Leadership) and truly embody inclusion.
”This goes far beyond tolerance and inclusion; it speaks to the meaningful experiences and relationships that are commonplace within the walls of SHS,” said Ben Gibbons, Unified Coach.
“Not only does this distinction recognize excellence in the Unified Programs at SHS, but it really speaks to the amazing dedication that all individuals at Seekonk High School have to creating an inclusive atmosphere for individuals with and without disabilities. This goes far beyond tolerance and inclusion; it speaks to the meaningful experiences and relationships that are commonplace within the walls of SHS,” Gibbons continued.
The program wouldn’t be possible without the coaches and staff. Several teachers coach the Unified team along with Nelson and Gibbons, including Jim MacKnight, Hannah Lawrence, Stephanie Viens and David Marr. Most haven’t missed any practices or games, with or without compensation, says Gibbons.
SHS’ Unified Program Background
Social Studies teacher Kristin Nelson and Athletic Director Fred Crippen, who retired last year, spearheaded the Unified Program in 2016. They had their first meeting with Special Olympics of Massachusetts in the fall of 2015, according to Nelson. The program started with students attending the Youth Leadership Summit, the "Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign" and the first Unified Track and Field season kicked off in the spring of 2016.
The first year of the Track and Field program there were about 20 students on the track team; last season they had more than 60 students. The Unified Track and Field team also won the Division One MIAA State Championship title for the past two years in a row!
Seekonk High offers Unified Basketball in the fall and a Unified Club was recently started where students gather to play games and other activities and socialize.
Unified Programs Benefit the Whole School
Gibbons says that these programs benefit all students involved. “The benefits that Unified Sports, Unified Clubs and a general unified atmosphere has for individuals both with and without disabilities is impossible to overstate. The reciprocal relationships developed among Warriors with and without disabilities bring out the best in the young men and women that attend school here. I have personally observed tangible improvements in students' levels of empathy, patience and overall mental wellbeing,” Gibbons said.
The program also builds students’ social skills, says Gibbons. “I have also seen marked improvements on an individual level, including increased confidence, self-esteem and self-advocacy. These benefits spill into the classroom and have improved the culture of the school as a whole,” Gibbons said.