West Florence named Unified Champion School
After a wonderful inaugural year for the Unified Physical Education class at West Florence High School, the school has been named a National Banner Unified Champion School.
According to the Special Olympics website a National Unified Champion School “has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement and respect for all members of the student body and staff. A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence…developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.”
Brian Denny, Assistant Superintendent for Exceptional Education, said he is proud of West Florence’s recognition and credits Coach Warren Coker with bringing the program to Florence 1.
“We are incredibly proud of West Florence for being recognized as a Unified Champion School,” Denny said. “Coach Coker approached administrators with the idea to start this class last school year and he has done a great job making sure that all students are included. Last year at West Florence went incredibly well and this school year we wanted to make sure that all of our students with disabilities, no matter what high school they attended, had this same opportunity.”
Unified PE, a Division of Special Olympics, “provides a unique opportunity for students with and without disabilities to come together through ongoing educational and physical activities” according to the Special Olympics website. A curriculum is available for the class that covers a variety of topics, such as the rules of the sport and instructions on how to play, to help prepare students to participate in Special Olympics events.
Coach Coker said that he has been thrilled with how quickly West Florence students have taken to the program.
“Last year was a fun class and I fell in love with all the kids,” Coker said. “This is a class that just brings a lot of joy to everybody. Our students want to make friends and they don’t normally get the opportunity to make friendships with general education students unless we include them. That has been my big push here: making West Florence a more inclusive environment for all of our kids. Watching the relationships that are built in this class is the best part of my day.”
Coker said that after such a successful year at West Florence, he wanted to see it expand across the district.
“I really wanted to push this class out to the other two high schools; that was my goal,” Coker said. “My next goal is to push it to the middle schools so that students will have an experience with it there and when they move up, they’ll know what it's about and they can get an elective high school credit for this class.”
South Florence teacher Jeffrey Bley said he was able to see the benefits of the class at West Florence and wanted his students to have the same experience.
“I was interested in expanding the Unified Sports class at South Florence to make a difference in ALL the students at South Florence through inclusion and acceptance,” Bley said.
Kandee Shelor, Florence 1 Transition Coordinator, said that she is thrilled that the district has expanded the Unified PE program to all three high schools.
“We are promoting inclusion across the district at all levels,” Shelor said. “By doing that, we find that we are giving everyone opportunities and everyone is being included and accepted. School should be fun and when everyone is included, and they have that sense of belonging, we change an entire community. Opportunity looks different for every student but this gives them the chance to be the best that they can be and also have opportunities as they leave our district and move on to post-secondary experiences. We are looking forward to being able to host an intra-district Unified Sports competition for athletes and partners from all three schools to be able to compete against each other at a local level.”