ESPN recognizes Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools for efforts to include students with disabilities

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