Theodore Roosevelt High School has good reason to be proud. This year it became Iowa's first school to be recognized by ESPN and Special Olympics for its efforts to be inclusive of students with disabilities. The high school is one of 36 Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools that made the 2020 ESPN Honor Roll. The top five schools will be announced Oct. 12.
A Special Olympics Unified Champion School endeavors to create an inclusive school climate and to promote 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. These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.
Bryan Coffey, director of Unified Programs for Special Olympics Iowa, said every school in the Des Moines Independent Community School District, including Roosevelt, has a Special Olympics Unified Sports program, which integrates students with disabilities and students without disabilities, known as Unified partners. Coffey says that Roosevelt's ability to stay visibly ambitious in the pursuit of having an inclusive environment is what sets it apart. "The [teachers, coaches and administrators] are having meaningful conversations with the students about the importance of inclusion," Coffey says.
Says Unified partner Elizabeth Saunders: "Being a Unified Champion School really solidifies the commitment of Roosevelt and the Roosevelt community to inclusion. The honor of being named a [nationally recognized] Unified Champion School means that Roosevelt has created an environment where students of all abilities feel welcome and included."
Roosevelt's program started with a Unified basketball team two years ago and has created a strong student leadership and Unified club aspect. With approximately 20 to 30 students involved in the program and about six to eight helping with the planning and decision making, Coffey says it's "very important to get the athletes involved."
"The type of recognition being the first school in the district is incredibly important," Coffey says of the ESPN Honor Roll. "Pushing inclusion and accepting different abilities give the other schools something to look forward to."
Here's the complete list of the 36 schools in alphabetical order named in the 2020 ESPN Honor Roll:
Alaska: Teeland Middle School
Arizona: O.C. Johnson Elementary School
Arkansas: Huntsville High School
California: Murrieta Valley High School
Colorado: Rangeview High School
Connecticut: Highland Elementary School
Delaware: Postlethwait Middle School
Georgia: White County Middle School
Hawaii: Lokelani Intermediate School
Illinois: Edwardsville High School
Indiana: Valparaiso High School
Iowa: Theodore Roosevelt High School
Kansas: Lawrence High School
Maine: Morse High School
Massachusetts: Fitchburg High School
Michigan: Howell High School
Minnesota: University of Minnesota
Missouri: Festus High School
Nebraska: Ashland-Greenwood High School
New Hampshire: Londonderry High School
New Jersey: Mt. Olive High School
New Mexico: Mayfield High School
New York: Ithaca High School
North Carolina: Smithfield-Selma High School
Oregon: Silverton High School
Pennsylvania: Slippery Rock University
Rhode Island: Coventry High School
South Carolina: Williams Memorial Elementary School
South Dakota: University of South Dakota
Tennessee: Hardin Valley Academy
Texas: Texas Tech University
Vermont: Champlain Valley Union
Virginia: George C. Marshall High School
Washington: River Ridge High School
Washington D.C.: Bunker Hill Elementary School
Wisconsin: Neenah High School