Bullitt East High School Earns National Recognition as a Special Olympics Unified Champion Banner School

Tiffany Darnell and Students

Through the leadership of teachers Tiffany Darnell and Katie Hoben, Bullitt East High School has been Nationally Recognized as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School.

Bullitt East is the only Kentucky school in the 2019 Class of National Banner Unified Champion Schools. There are only three schools in Kentucky that have achieved this accolade.

“Katie and I started this program three years ago at BE with hopes and dreams of this becoming a reality,” Darnell explained. “After receiving the email that we were an actual National Unified Champion School, it really was like a huge dream had come true.

“We, of course, cried happy tears and were so proud of the students and staff,” she continued. “The positive impact this club has had on the students has been amazing, but the peers impact has been something I could never put into words.”

Special Olympics KY is scheduling a date this fall to present the official banner to Bullitt East.

ESPN announced Bullitt East is one of their Top 5 schools in the inclusion revolution in this video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/o3dy6stifrustkg/Hanna_Storm.mp4?dl=0.

A National Banner Unified Champion School is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting ten (10) standards of excellence. These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.

The primary activity within these standards include: Special Olympics Unified Sports (where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates), Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement.

Banner Unified Champion Schools should also be able to demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities in the future.

Darnell described how each of the primary activities is implemented at Bullitt East.

“In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability,” she said. “That makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. Having sports in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away.”

Bullitt East sponsors Unified track and field and Unified bowling which are both part of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA).

“We have been able to grow this program over the last two years thanks to the varsity coaches being accepting of inclusion,” Darnell said.

Darnell said Inclusive Youth Leadership at Bullitt East is, “Young people of all abilities given opportunities to be leaders in our schools and communities.

“These leadership activities help students find their voices and teach them to become change agents in their communities by promoting equity and acceptance,” she said. “At Bullitt East, students with and without intellectual disabilities work to lead advocacy, awareness, and inclusion. We take outings at least once a month outside of school that are chosen by the students. We have a lock-in each year, which to some is the only time they are away from their parents or guardians.”

Whole School Engagement activities positively impact school climate by including all students, teachers, staff and administrators.

“Our inclusive school climate fosters understanding and respect to influence how students think and act within and beyond the school,” Darnell reflected. “At Bullitt East, we have had several whole school engagements such as: created an “R-Word” video, an assembly speaker with Travis Freeman, and a Unified Basketball game played against Fern Creek High School. We also have an awareness week each year at BE. The students wear different colors each day that represent the different disabilities. Each morning, students from the Youth Leadership Team read statics from specific disabilities to the entire school to raise awareness and help support understanding.”

Project Unify is a club offered at Bullitt East that include students with and without disabilities.

“We currently have 65 members that are a part of Project Unify,” Darnell noted. “The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is aimed at promoting social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change. These are school climates where students with disabilities feel welcome and are routinely included in, and feel a part of, all activities, opportunities and functions.”

National Banner School Components & Achievement Standards

The ten (10) standards of excellence listed below were developed by a national panel of leaders in education and Special Olympics. When the standards have been met by a school, it is eligible to receive national banner recognition.

Special Olympics Unified Sports®: A fully-inclusive sports or fitness program that combines an approximately equal number of students with and without intellectual disabilities. Examples include such things as Interscholastic Unified Sports, Unified PE or Unified Intramurals.

A national banner school has achieved the following standards:

(1) Unified Sports is offered in at least 2 seasons throughout the school year.

(2) Unified Sports participation occurs regularly over the course of 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) Unified Sports is officially recognized by the school in a similar style as other athletics/activities.

Inclusive Youth Leadership: Students with and without intellectual disabilities work to lead advocacy, awareness, inclusion and other Special Olympics activities throughout the school year. Examples include such things as Unified Clubs, inclusive student councils or similar types of inclusive student groups.

A national banner school has achieved the following standards:

(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.

Whole-School Engagement: Awareness and education activities that promote inclusion and reach the majority of the school population. Examples include such things as Spread the Word to End the Word (R-Word) Campaign, Pep Rallies or “Fans in the Stands” for Unified Sports teams, Respect Campaigns or student fundraising.

A national banner school has achieved the following standards:

(8) At least two whole-school engagement activities are implemented per school year.

(9) Students with and without disabilities are involved with planning and leading the awareness activities.

Sustainability: Strategies and plans which help ensure the three Unified Champion School components will continue into the future and truly become part of the school culture. Examples include such things as student fundraising, Unified Booster Clubs or Unified Sports/Club expenses included in school budgets.

A national banner school has achieved the following standards:

(10) The school is currently self-sustainable or has a plan in place to sustain the three components into the future.

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