FHS Recieves National Special Olympic Banner

National Special Olympics Banner Awarded to Fairhaven High School
Posted on 12/16/2022
Fairhaven High School Receives National Inclusion BannerSpecial Olympics International awarded Fairhaven High school a national banner of excellence in inclusion, advocacy, and respect in September. Fairhaven was one of 12 Massachusetts schools that received the prestigious honor, and Fairhaven now joins 166 nationwide schools with the achievement.

In a letter sent to Fairhaven High School, Eric Shriver, Special Olympics International Chairman, writes:

“Your school community has shown impressive determination and is helping us move towards our collective goal of creating a truly ‘Unified Generation’ of young people who embrace differences and lead social change."

Special Olympics Massachusetts added: “Not only do these schools offer Unified sports, youth leadership, and whole school engagement within their school, but they have elevated it to the next level and have reached the standards of excellence set forth at a national level.” said Patti Doherty, Vice President of schools and Community Development for Special Olympics Massachusetts.

A national banner hangs in the gymnasium of Fairhaven High School celebrating the school's commitment to inclusion.

Inclusive Pride

“I literally began to tear up and got goosebumps, “ said Angela Allaire, special education teacher at Fairhaven High School. “It meant so much to me. In 20 twenty years, I feel like we’ve come a long way, and we’re finally in a place where disabled students are finally being included in a multitude of ways.”

Mrs. Allaire’s students couldn’t hold back their excitement about the national recognition. “I was shocked. We worked so hard to get to where we are, “ said Isaiah.

“It means a lot. Everyone gets to work together no matter what. The team is positive, and this experience has made me a better person,” Austin added.

“It feels awesome. However, there is more improvement to come,” said Maddie. “We need more banners!”

To receive this accomplishment, Fairhaven High School had to meet and exceed ten standards set by the International Special Olympics Committee, including

  1. Unified Sports offered at least two seasons throughout the school year.
  2. Unified Sports participation occurs regularly over each sport season or school term and includes competition.
  3. An adult coach for each sport who has received training on Special Olympics Unified Sports.
  4. The school, in a similar style, officially recognizes unified Sports as other athletics/activities.
  5. A Unified Club or student group offers leadership opportunities/training for students with and without intellectual disabilities.
  6. The inclusive club/group meets at least once per month throughout the school year.
  7. The inclusive club/group has an adult liaison and is officially recognized by the school in a similar style as other clubs/activities
  8. The school plans two whole-school engagement activities.
  9. Students with and without disabilities plan and lead the awareness activities.
  10. The school plans to sustain the components into the future
FHS Blue Devils cheer on the unifed basketball team

A School-wide Celebration

In November, the school community gathered in the gymnasium to celebrate the achievement by unveiling the national banner. The Unified basketball game also competed against a team and teachers. Students filled the gymnasium with cheers for the unified athletes as they defeated the teacher team 47-36.

Fairhaven High School unified athletes compete against teachers in an inclusion celebration

“Our team did well. It was great.” Austin, a unified basketball athlete, added “It was cool. Our team did great.” When asked about how the teacher’s performed, he paused and said “...The teacher team did alright!”

“I really enjoyed having all the teachers playing with us. It was amazing!” added Maddie, a unified basketball player.“

Fairhaven High School unified athletes compete against teachers in an inclusion celebration

Kathleen Lutz, the Interscholastic unified sports manager of the Massachusetts Special Olympics addressed the school community after unveiling the banner and spoke to the Fairahven’s inclusion efforts.

“It really shows that inclusion is really a priority for all students here, and it really is embedded in the culture of Fairhaven High School.” said Lutz.

View highlights from the game:

The Road to Inclusion

Historically in many school districts, students with disabilities did not always have access to full academic and co-curricular programs. However, the Fairhaven Public Schools has prioritized access and inclusion for all students with new inclusion programs.

In the spring of 2019, Mrs. Allaire teamed up with physical education teacher Karen Stachowiak, athletic director Chris Carrig, and physical education teacher Chris Foster to create Fairhaven’s first-ever unified basketball team.

For the first time, Fairhaven High School students with disabilities could play basketball with other schools and alongside other teen mentors. One year later, the Unified Sports team began competing in a second sport, Unified Track.

Fairhaven High School Unified Basketball game

The addition of unified sports to Fairhaven High School has a lasting effect on teachers and students. “I never coached regular sports at Fairhaven High School, but being a part of this team was more amazing than any other sport,” Karen Stachowiak added.

“I’ve been on the team for four years. At first, I didn’t like playing on the court,” said Emma, a unified athlete. “But now I love it! This team is like my second family.”

Austin added, “The team is positive, no matter what happens. Even when we win or lose.”

Shortly after the spring of 2019, unified athletes got a chance to compete in Fairhaven’s first ever Special Olympics competition. Prior to the event, Special Olympic athletes received a hero’s sendoff as the entire school flooded the hallways to cheer on their fellow students.

The Unified and Special Olympics team endured a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic but roared back in 2022. Competing in two seasons of unified sports, competing in the Southcoast Special Olympics, and even qualifying for the Massachusetts Special Olympics Championship for Track and Field.

Expanding Inclusion Across the District

Angela Allaire’s goal is simple: “The goal is to foster more peer connections for our students.”

In the next few months, Fairhaven High School will receive a national banner from the Special Olympics International to hang in the gymnasium. As inclusion at Fairhaven High School progressed, the special education team still saw more work needed.

The special education department at Fairhaven High School now explores new opportunities to engage students with disabilities across the district. One pilot program being developed pairs high school students with disabilities into mentor groups with similar middle and elementary school students.

The community also seeks to include more middle and elementary students during unified sports games and Special Olympics competitions and expand their unified sports offerings.

Fairhaven High School celebrates inclusion during a teacher vs. unified basketball game.

Unified Club: A New Inclusion Program

At Fairhaven High School, Angela Allaire and Karen Stachowiak now organize the school’s first Unified Club, inviting students of all ages and abilities to meet once a month to play games, create arts and crafts, or perform in a dance and karaoke party.

“We really want to get a variety of students altogether.” Angela Allaire said of the Unified Club. We want to foster connections with all students, not just athletes, and get kids who are not into sports to connect with our students.”

The Unified Club meets on the last Tuesday of each month. Anyone is welcome to join and attend the unified club's meetings.

Unified Athletes shake hands during a teacher vs. students basketball game

About Special Olympics Massachusetts:

Special Olympics Massachusetts provides year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programming for over 14,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities across the state in over 500 sporting competitions each year. Through the power of sport, the Special Olympics movement transforms the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Learn more, http://www.specialolympicsma.org
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