High Desert Granite Hills High School was recently named a Unified Champion School by the Special Olympics of Southern California (SOSC). The school was awarded this designation based on a collaborative effort by parents, teachers, advisors, coaches, and administrators.
At the suggestion of Melanie Dube-Price, a parent volunteer SOSC area director and with the support of Principal Chuck McCall, special education teacher, Mike Sluder applied for the designation as UCS liaison.
“I have students involved in cheer, football, wrestling, and track. Coach Witham, Coach Bennis, Coach Gonzalez, and others have embraced the special ed students,” said Sluder. “It has turned into a whole-school involvement with teachers and students. All the teams have been supportive. It’s been fantastic the way they have embraced our special needs kids.”
The SOSC awarded Granite Hills a $1800 grant to be used toward these efforts. Specifically, there are three necessary components in order to qualify for the title of Unified Champion School: Inclusion Youth Leadership, Unified Sport Competition, and Whole-school Engagement.
“WE ARE TRYING TO BUILD FRIENDSHIPS ACROSS THE ENTIRE STUDENT POPULATION AND ENGAGEMENT AND ACCEPTANCE OF ALL STUDENTS.”
Granite Hills offers school clubs promoting youth leadership and inclusion. Special education and regular education students work together as elected officers, as well as unified athletic teams in which several special education students practice and compete alongside their regular education peers.
The Unified Sport Competition will be accomplished with a district-wide Field Day to be held April 4 at Granite Hills High School starting at 9:30 a.m. Field Day will encompass preschool students through adult transition students in the moderate/severe special education programs. There will be 9 schools and 168 students involved in activities of their choice such as bowling, basketball, running events, a softball and frisbee throw, and a standing or running long jump.
“They can do one event or do them all,” said Sluder. “It’s up to them to choose.”
Each student will be assigned a regular student “buddy” from their school for the day. The preschool students will hang out with an assigned high school athlete.
“We are trying to build friendships across the entire student population and engagement and acceptance of all students. It’s a chance for these kids to go out and have fun with an opportunity they might not otherwise have. It’s a big event for us—promoting acceptance and inclusion for all people with or without a disability,” said Sluder.
Some of the awarded grant money will be used for things like new games for the game club and the Field Day event where students will be provided with racing bibs with their names printed on it and medals for the day.
Area SOSC volunteer director, Dube-Price’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Wyatt Jane was one of the first special education students to attend Granite. When Dube-Price’s daughter was selected to attend the school, she recalled a meeting with Principal McCall and all the special education student parents where he assured them Granite was committed to providing a good education for the students. McCall continues to hold monthly meetings with the parents which have been a vital part of being deemed a District Unified Champion School.
“THE SPECIAL ED STUDENTS AREN’T HIDDEN OR AN AFTERTHOUGHT IN A BACK CLASSROOM. THE FACULTY AND ADMINISTRATORS SEND THE MESSAGE THAT THESE KIDS ARE GRANITE COUGARS.”
Wyatt Jane started her freshman year where she participated on the cheerleading team graduating to the varsity squad this school year.
“She is so loved by everyone at that school. When she gets out of the car, I hear students telling her hello. The student body is wonderful and protective of each other,” said Dube-Price. “Last year her baking class baked her a birthday cake. But one thing that stands out is when at a school assembly the entire school was chanting Wyatt’s name. It brought tears to my eyes. It’s a huge thing for us that her peers are engaging with her and embracing her.”
The special education classroom is located in the center of the quad. “The special ed students aren’t hidden or an afterthought in a back classroom,” said Dube-Price. “When they walk out, they are with the regular students. The faculty and administrators send the message that these kids are Granite Cougars.”
On March 6, Granite will also participate with SOSC in an event called National End the R-word Day which encourages participants to “raise awareness year-round about the hurtfulness of the R-word (retard) by taking the pledge to never use this word again.” This event also serves to complete the final component of Whole-school Engagement necessary for a Champion School.
“I think the parents of our special education students are excited with the things we are doing to help their students interact and enjoy the high school experience. We have listened to their suggestions and enacted them,” said Sluder. “But it’s not just one person involved in receiving the Unified Championship designation—it’s teachers, administrators, parents, and class aids.”