Building Socially Inclusive Middle Schools

5 Mar 2023 9:27 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

By: Seth Krebill (Western Region Unified Champion Schools Manager), Sam Parker (Southeast Region Coordinator) and Maricela Shukie (UCS Urban Schools Manager)

Middle school is often associated with the challenges of growing through an “awkward” phase - both socially and physically.  We often hear about a culture of cliques, bullying, and students struggling with their evolving identity. However, there are great attributes of middle school too! Students are growing, changing and learning. With the right support, a socially  inclusive school environment can make Middle School go from awkward to accepting.

We believe that the Special Olympics Unified program belongs in every middle school because of its ability to create socially inclusive environments. Through this programming, we build Unified teams where everyone feels safe and that they truly belong. Currently, there are 573 Unified Champion Schools (UCS) in Colorado, and 108 of them are middle schools. Research conducted across the country shows unified programs reduce bullying, increase self-confidence, decrease the use of hateful speech like the “R-word”...  and all while practicing healthy activities and building teams:

93% of UCS liaisons believe Unified programming has created a more socially inclusive environment that helps students with disabilities become a part of the school community. 

94% of UCS liaisons reported reduced bullying.

63% of school staff feel that students are open to and accepting of differences, and that the program has increased the sense of community in the school. 

Students who have heard the “R-word” dropped from 83% to 54% where an Inclusion Campaign has been implemented.

96% of athletes experienced improved self- confidence.

99% feel the UCS program is valuable for their school as a whole.

There are so many ways to start Special Olympics programming at your school! The Special Olympics Colorado Unified Champion Schools program consists of four pillars:

(1) Unified Sports - students with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same team. These teams consist of athletes, those with an intellectual disability, and Unified partners, peer students without an intellectual disability. The Unified concept brings to light the idea that training and playing together provide a quick path to friendship and understanding.  

(2) Inclusive Youth Leadership & Advocacy - empowers students to be the voice of change within their schools and communities. Colorado’s Youth Activation Committee (YAC) works to plan and implement unified opportunities throughout the state including the annual youth summit as a call to action for thousands of students to promote inclusion in their own schools.  

(3) Whole School Engagement - fosters understanding and respect by engaging all students, staff, and faculty in school-wide opportunities. Pep rallies, assemblies, and sporting events that promote inclusion, respect and the UCS program.

(4) Health & Wellness Programming (Healthy LEAP) - provides a curriculum written by Special Olympics Colorado aligning with Colorado’s Department of Education Academic Health Standards. This curriculum provides students with and without intellectual disabilities information covering physical and personal wellness, social emotional health and prevention and risk management. 

Not sure where to start?  

We suggest you host a Whole School Engagement event in conjunction with our annual Spread The Word: Inclusion campaign that kicks off March 1st.  We encourage schools to be creative in how they can help build more inclusive communities on their campuses.

Once you register as a UCS school, you qualify for a free Inclusion kit that consists of t-shirts, bracelets, posters, and a banner for the whole school to sign and pledge to be inclusive.  Please note: The store closes April 1st, so order your free kit now!  This video is an example of how your school can talk about Inclusion. 

If you are looking to make your middle school socially inclusive, Special Olympics Colorado Unified Champion Schools is a strategy to activate youth, engage educators, and promote school communities of acceptance and inclusion.  Please contact us with any questions about how to get involved!


Special Olympics North America, The academic and Social-Emotional Impacts of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, Andrea Cahn, Jacquline Jodi PhD, Michelle Tin PhD, and AShlyn Smioth, PhD, Special Olympics Global Center for Inclusion and Education, May 2022 

Special Olympics North America  Unified Champion Schools:

Written by Special Olympics Colorado (SOCO) Unified Champion Schools (UCS) Staff from across the state: Seth Krebill (Western Region Unified Champion Schools Manager), Sam Parker (Southeast Region Coordinator) and Maricela Shukie (UCS Urban Schools Manager)

Colorado Association of Middle Level Education


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