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D.C. Everest Promotes Inclusion as Part of the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools Program

The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is designed to promote inclusion of students with disabilities and build a school culture that is tolerant, accepting and supportive of each student’s abilities. The idea is to implement inclusive athletic activities, youth leadership opportunities and engaging classroom experiences that become the building blocks of an inclusive school environment.

The D.C. Everest Area School District has a wide range of programs in place to promote inclusion, end prejudice and empower students to play an active role in creating a supportive school environment. A few years ago, the D.C. Everest Junior High began hosting inclusive sporting events during Extended Learning Time (ELT), a daily block of time in which students can choose to work on homework, get assistance from teachers or pursue an interest. Todd Tretter, Specially Designed Phy Ed teacher, has led the initiative. “We’ve always had very high turnout at our Project Unify events,” he notes. “The gym is packed with students who simply want to get together and have a good time on the playing field. We have people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. Playing together is a great way to build friendships and understanding.” Project Unify events take place at the DCE Senior High and DCE Middle School as well. To expand on this initiative, Mr. Tretter is working to establish a D.C. Everest Special Olympics team.

Currently, the district is home to four businesses run by students with disabilities. These businesses are hands-on learning opportunities that integrate academic, social and adaptive skills. At Riverside Elementary, the students create and sell unique buttons. The Eagle Bean student business at Evergreen Elementary delivers hot drinks to staff members. Special needs students at the DCE Junior High run a homemade snack business. And the students’ Puppy Treat business at Mountain Bay Elementary, which originally limited its sales to staff members, is now expanding its service to the DCE Administration building, a local hospital, nursing home and grocery store. DCE instructor Alissa Aldrich, who helped launch the Puppy Treat business notes that “the students do everything — shopping for supplies, measuring and mixing ingredients, cutting and rolling out treats, counting money, cleaning the workspace, tracking orders, labeling and delivering the products.” The business not only hones students’ academic skills, but provides the students with an opportunity to work on leadership and life skills. “It’s been a great way to get my students more involved with others at the school and in the community. They’ve worked hard, assumed a lot of personal responsibility and saved their money. It’s very empowering for them to use their earnings to get outside of the classroom and explore the community with their friends.” 

When they enter DCE Senior High, students with developmental disabilities can participate in the Take Your Legislator to Work Day campaign, which brings together legislators and constituents with disabilities to highlight the benefits of community-integrated jobs for people with disabilities. Last year, students met with Representative Pat Snyder at Ascension St. Clare’s and showed him around their workplace, which included St. Clare’s Bread Basket café and other areas of the hospital.

The DCE Senior High students also can participate in Project Search, a national program that helps special needs students develop critical job skills that will help them transition after they graduate from high school. Several of the DCE students work at local hospitals and attend classroom sessions that allow them to explore different departments and find a good fit. According to Julie Weller, Assistant Director of Special Education, “This program helps our students explore job opportunities while learning about themselves. They discover what they are interested in and what they are capable of doing. These opportunities are priceless.” 

Jim Dahlgren, a business and IT teacher at the DCE Junior High, Lisa Wistrom, Intellectual Disabilities Teacher and Amanda Buege, Speech and Language Therapist also lead a DCE Junior High business class for students with intellectual disabilities. “Our main focus is to provide these students with the skills they will need for future employment and independent living,” he states. Trig’s grocery store, which is located just down the hill from the junior high, has partnered with the school and provides students with the opportunity to work at the store during their business class period gaining crucial work experience. “The partnership helps students develop skills they will need for part- or full-time employment. The opportunity to gain real world experience like this is something we can’t teach in the classroom,” adds Dahlgren.

Local business owners also share their expertise with the students during behind-the-scenes field trips. “These tours also help us demonstrate to potential employers that these students have a lot of untapped potential,” notes Julie Weller. “In Wisconsin, the typical employee turnover rate is 45 percent; for employees with disabilities it’s 8 percent. Research shows that employees with disabilities have nearly identical job performance ratings as employees without disabilities, and that they require similar supervision. The more we can meet with businesses, the better we can discover opportunities for our students with disabilities.”

Ultimately, opportunities like these throughout the district empower youth with disabilities while promoting inclusion. “D.C. Everest is dedicated to removing barriers for all of its students and ensuring that every student has access to opportunities that empower them. In doing so, we are building school climates that accept and respect the differences of others,” concludes Weller.

At a recent DCE Junior High Project Unify event, the students filled the gym to play volleyball.

At a recent DCE Junior High Project Unify event, the students filled the gym to play volleyball.

 

Playing together is a great way to build friendships and understanding.

Playing together is a great way to build friendships and understanding.

 

The gym is packed with students who simply want to get together and have a good time on the playing field.

The gym is packed with students who simply want to get together and have a good time on the playing field.

 

Events like Project Unify help building a school climate that accepts and respects the differences of others.

Events like Project Unify help building a school climate that accepts and respects the differences of others.