Celebrating Winter’s Teachers of the Season

A great teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart. Special Olympics Northern California & Nevada is honoring 10 teachers this season who have gone above and beyond for their students and have encouraged an environment of inclusion and acceptance throughout their respective school communities.

The selected teachers were nominated by area representatives for the winter season. Special Olympics Northern California & Nevada recognizes the contributions of partnering special education, adapted physical education (APE) and other teachers and administrators for their outstanding efforts in impacting the lives of students with intellectual disabilities.

The honored teachers include:


Northern California:


Ms. Christine Niemoller

California High School

Ms. Niemoller is a Special Day Class teacher for grades nine through 12 at California High School in San Ramon, Calif., and has been involved with the Special Olympics Schools Partnership Program since its inception more than 10 years ago.

Ms. Niemoller takes a personal interest in the well-being of each of her students and organizes numerous events and competitions throughout the year in partnership with Special Olympics. She works seamlessly with her school, teacher aides and other paraprofessionals to ensure that her students receive the best overall experience and feel comfortable during the process. Ms. Niemoller takes a hands-on approach with her classroom and related events, in which she awards ribbons to each student and celebrates their accomplishments with them. She also creates books for her students to relive the event experiences and build excitement for the next activity.

Thank you, Ms. Niemoller!




Ms. Michelle Bolden

Armijo High School

Ms. Bolden is a Special Education Teacher at Armijo High School in Fairfield, Calif., and has worked tirelessly to bring the Special Olympics Schools Partnership Program to the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District.

Ms. Bolden believes in the inclusionary model of Special Olympics and has incorporated its values into her classroom for her students to build upon – both in and out of school. She recently orchestrated the area’s first Unified Track and Field event, bringing together three high schools to participate, and went above and beyond to organize tasks and logistics, collect donations and work with teachers and school officials to make the event a success. Ms. Bolden hopes to grow the program and host an annual Unified Sports competition within her area.

Thank you, Ms. Bolden!




Mr. Mark Tackett

Clovis North High School

Mr. Tackett is a History Teacher and Unified Sports Coach at Clovis North High School in Fresno, Calif. and has been an integral part in organizing the first-ever MLS Unified All-Star Soccer Team through the MLS Unified Exchange.

The MLS Exchange offers a unique opportunity for a Unified Soccer team from Northern California to partner with the San Jose Earthquakes to train and compete leading up to two matches against a Unified Soccer team from Southern California, partnered with the LA Galaxy. The matches will be played at Avaya Stadium in May and the StubHub Center in August.

Mr. Tackett has taken on a majority of the ground-level responsibility to put together a team of local athletes, including processing applications; securing training facilities; organizing transportation; serving as the main point of contact for parents and athletes; and more. He is also one of the key teachers responsible for developing a Unified Sports program at the school. Mr. Tackett volunteers his time for all of this in addition to his position as a history teacher at Clovis North, which was recently nominated for a Gold Ribbon Award by the California Department of Education (CDE).

Mr. Tackett has a “can-do” attitude and believes in the positive impact and influence that Special Olympics and Unified Sports can have on students. He is involved in nearly every Special Olympics sport in the Fresno County area in some capacity and also dedicates his time as a track and soccer coach for Granite Ridge Middle School.

Thank you, Mr. Tackett!




Ms. Michelle Stone

Irvington High School

Ms. Stone is an Athletic Director at Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., and has been the driving force to bring the Special Olympics Schools Partnership Program to her campus.

After getting a few students involved through volunteering as athletic trainers for an event, she took the lead in reaching out to coordinate with Special Olympics and worked to build interest among the student population. Ms. Stone organized a Unified Basketball event that brought together more than 40 students in general education and special education programs, encouraging a new wave of inclusion and support among the students.

Thank you, Ms. Stone!




Ms. Dawn Yoshinaga

Greendell Preschool

Ms. Yoshinaga is the Principal at Greendell Preschool in Palo Alto, Calif.

After being approached by Special Olympics, Ms. Yoshinaga and her staff quickly embraced the idea of organizing a Young Athletes Program (YAP) day at the school and pulled in 190 students with and without special needs to participate. YAP focuses on children with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 2 and 7 to introduce them to the world of sport through Special Olympics, while also promoting the physical skills that are crucial to cognitive development. In addition, YAP brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities at an early age to foster the basis for inclusion and understanding later in life.

Thank you, Ms. Yoshinaga!




Ms. Rebecca Tock

Elsie Allen High School

Ms. Tock is an Education Specialist at Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., and was a main factor in organizing the school’s first Unified Basketball team.

Ms. Tock works hard to promote an environment of inclusion and acceptance on campus and oversees the school’s Special Olympics Club. Her dedicated efforts led to a great effort from the school’s Unified Basketball team at the Santa Rosa Schools Partnership Program tournament. She invited both men’s and women’s varsity basketball teams out to participate and was able to secure T-shirt donations for her team as uniforms.

Ms. Tock is excited in the progress she has facilitated at Elsie Allen High School and looks forward to many more events and programs in the future.

Thank you, Ms. Tock!




Mr. Jefferson Torres

Capuchino High School

Mr. Torres is an Adapted Physical Education (APE) Specialist at Capuchino High School in San Bruno, Calif.

Mr. Torres organized the first Unified Sports event at Capuchino and assisted with three other events around the district. He has gone above and beyond to offer Special Olympics sports to his students and also create opportunities for them to engage with the general education population.

Thank you, Mr. Torres!




Ms. Sarah Peacock

Livermore Valley Joint Unified District

Ms. Peacock has been an APE Specialist for more than 15 years in the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District.

She has made YAP a priority since the Special Olympics Schools Partnership Program entered the Tri-Valley region and always puts her students first to encourage their abilities and potential. Even in times of personal difficulty, Ms. Peacock has continued her powerful dedication to young students and recently hosted a successful two-part YAP Day at Croce Elementary School. According to a colleague, Ms. Peacock is, “a shining example of what every specialist and every teacher should strive to be.”

Thank you, Ms. Peacock!





Mr. Neil Balint

Legacy High School

Mr. Balint is a Special Education Teacher at Legacy High School in North Las Vegas, Nev., and has been involved in a variety of different programs and initiatives to support the athletes.

Recently, Mr. Balint organized an opportunity for his students to play a Unified Basketball game during halftime of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championship Game at Orleans Arena, and chartered a bus to ensure that all of his students were able to participate. He is a driving force behind the Unified Sports program at Legacy High School and also served as the point of contact for the 2017 Southern Nevada Regional Basketball Competition in the general sports program.

Thank you, Mr. Balint!




Ms. Taylor Aichroth and Ms. Tami Nichols

Edward C. Reed High School

Ms. Aichroth (Social Resources Teacher) and Ms. Nichols (Strategies Teacher) have been instrumental in bringing the Special Olympics Schools Partnership Program to Reed High School in Reno, Nev.

They organized a robust ‘Respect Week’ as part of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, which included R-word awareness, a Polar Plunge fundraiser and an all-school rally featuring a Unified Basketball game. Both teachers were excited to see the involvement and enthusiasm from the entire school campus during the week, highlighted by an exciting basketball game.

Ms. Aichroth and Ms. Nichols are continuing to push forward with Unified Sports programs and other initiatives that promote inclusion and acceptance on campus.

Thank you, Ms. Aichroth and Ms. Nichols!

Changing the Future for Inclusion

According to the California Department of Education, children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their peers without disabilities.

Clare and Tarin are some of the young people looking to change that.

The girls are currently seniors at Davis Senior High School and recently joined other students throughout Northern California and Nevada to host awareness campaigns at their respective schools during R-word Week in March. The initiatives were part of the annual Spread the Word to End the Word movement around the country, educating the public about the negative effects of using the word “retard(ed)” and encouraging people to pledge to stop saying the word as a starting point toward creating more accepting communities for everyone.

Tarin and Clare, who started a Best Buddies club at Davis on their own at the beginning of the school year, organized a week full of activities around the R-word campaign to promote inclusion between students in special education and general education. Monday was a “Pledge Day’ that encouraged students to sign the Spread the Word to End the Word banner; on Tuesday, the girls developed an obstacle course to challenge general education students to maneuver around blindfolded, to simulate vision impairment, and to navigate in a wheelchair; Wednesday featured speakers from Best Buddies and Special Olympics; and the week culminated in a Unified Basketball game on Friday during the lunch period.

“We want students to understand that people with disabilities are no different than anyone else,” explained Clare. “They enjoy doing the same things – playing basketball, watching sports, going to movies with their friends. It’s important to get that message out there by having these social events where students can come to watch, interact and learn.”

The Statewide Taskforce on Education recently reported that less than 30 percent of students indicate that they would be comfortable even speaking to a classmate with an intellectual disability. Tarin believes that the issue can be remedied through education and simply getting students with special needs to be a visible and comfortable part of the campus.

“Depending on the way you grow up, a lot of people aren’t really educated about [special needs] and don’t know what’s different and how to react,” she said. “With the R-word, people may not really realize what they’re saying and the impact it can have when they use it. That’s a major part of this campaign.”

Along with the group at Davis, R-word awareness campaigns, activities and Unified Basketball games were held at Rocklin High School (in conjunction with Whitney High School), Reed High School, Desert Oasis High School, Crocker Middle School, Givens Elementary School, Dondero Elementary School, Harmon Elementary School and others during the week.

Clare explained that, while there are some obstacles to getting the interest of all students, the overall response has been positive.

“We’ve had a lot of support from our school and a good number of students came out to the Unified Basketball game,” she said. “A lot of people signed the banner, which was nice to see. We saw that some students have never really thought about the R-word being hurtful until this week.”

Inclusion and respect start at an early age. And while Clare and Tarin will soon graduate and move on to the next chapters in their lives, they hope that the momentum that they and Special Olympics put into place will continue for future students at the school.

Davis will host a Unified Track event on Wednesday, March 15, taking advantage of the school’s roughly 230 track athletes to build more relationships and awareness for students with intellectual disabilities on campus.
Stay up-to-date on the latest events and achievements in local schools by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. More information on Unified Sports, the Schools Partnership Program and the R-word campaign is available at www.schoolspartnershipprogram.org and www.schoolspartnershipprogramnevada.org.

In a Class of Their Own

Special Olympics Northern California Recognizes Teachers of the Season in Seven Areas

The influence of a great teacher can never be erased. Special Olympics Northern California is honoring seven teachers this season who have gone above and beyond for their students and have encouraged an environment of inclusion and acceptance throughout their respective school communities.

The selected teachers were nominated by area representatives for the fall season. Special Olympics Northern California recognizes the contributions of partnering special education, adapted physical education (APE) and other teachers for their outstanding efforts in impacting the lives of students with intellectual disabilities.

The honored teachers include:



Mr. Andrew Lemos

Antioch High School

Mr. Lemos is a Special Day Class teacher for grades nine through 12 at Antioch High School and has provided ample opportunities for his students both inside and outside of the classroom. He started a buddy club at the school, organized an after-school prom for students with special needs and hosted a Unified Soccer match at the school, among other initiatives. Mr. Lemos is passionate about inclusion and allowing his students to be a visible part of the school community.

“I love that he gets our students engaged with the general population,” said Laneasha Lee, an assistant for Mr. Lemos. Marilyn Evans, another assistant, added: “There is a feeling of love in the air.”

Mr. Lemos has helped to transform Antioch High School into a fun, safe and inclusive campus for all students. Thank you, Mr. Lemos!


Mr. Jody Tims

Eastside Union School District

Mr. Tims is a teacher for the Eastside Union Post-Senior Schools Partnership Program, serving students with intellectual disabilities age 18 through 21. He has made significant changes in his class schedule in order for his students to be involved with sports and encourages them to express their creativity in the classroom, on the field, and within the community.

Mr. Tims has gone above and beyond to get his students involved in Special Olympics Northern California events, including encouraging one student to act as the play-by-play announcer for a tournament. Through this experience and numerous others, Mr. Tims allows his students to take pride in their work and grow as individuals. Thank you, Mr. Tims!


Cindy Linderer TOS.JPG

Ms. Cindy Lederer

Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District

Ms. Lederer is an elementary release time coordinator and head of elementary physical education for students in kindergarten through sixth grade for the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District. Ms. Lederer played an instrumental role in organizing a Special Olympics soccer event at Fairfield High School – all on her own time out of the kindness of her heart.

She attended all event meetings, got other elementary physical education teachers involved, and coordinated the music and emceed the event itself. Ms. Lederer has gone above and beyond to support students from all backgrounds within her community. Thank you, Ms. Lederer!



Ms. Telisa Kidwell (pictured) and Ms. Florence Srinivasan

Fairmeadow Elementary School

Ms. Kidwell and Ms. Srinivasan are special education teachers who have worked together at Fairmeadow Elementary School to create a Unified Sports team and encourage their students to be an active part of the school community. Through Unified Sports, students with and without intellectual disabilities are brought together to play on the same team, providing a unique opportunity for them to learn about inclusion in a fun and active environment.

Thank you, Ms. Kidwell and Ms. Srinivasan!



Mr. Andrew Batman

Mills High School

Mr. Batman’s first year of teaching at Mills High School and he has already made a big impact in partnering with Special Olympics Northern California at the school. Mr. Batman has been involved with Special Olympics since he was in high school himself, and his experience was a major factor in him becoming a special education teacher. Mr. Batman hosted a Special Olympics soccer event at Mills High School and was passionate about including the entire school in the fun – including as athletes, referees, skills volunteers, greeting committee members, team liaisons and more.

“The entire campus was all smiles,” said a fellow teacher.

Thanks to Mr. Batman, Mills High School is planning to host two more Special Olympics events at the school before the end of the year. Thank you, Mr. Batman!



Mr. Marc Crivello

Montgomery High School

Mr. Crivello is a special education student aide at Montgomery High School and has spearheaded the creation of the school’s first Unified Basketball game in early February. He is also working with Santa Rosa High School for future Unified Basketball competitions and encourages inclusion and unity throughout the campus. Thank you, Mr. Crivello!


Mr. Leif Bostrom


Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District

Mr. Bostrom is a Special Day Class teacher for grades six through eight in the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District and serves the greater area as a part of the Tri-Valley Schools Partnership Program, which includes districts in Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin. Mr. Bostrom has been a part of the Special Olympics Northern California Schools Partnership Program since the beginning and is an avid supporter of Unified Sports, specifically in cross country.

Thank you, Mr. Bostrom, for making a positive impact in schools throughout the Tri-Valley!


Inclusion Starts Early


Lewis E. Rowe Elementary School in East Las Vegas hosted a Disability Awareness Assembly for students in partnership with Special Olympics Nevada last Tuesday.

Students gathered to discuss spreading respect and treating others with acceptance and inclusion, and how to stop saying words that hurt each other’s feelings. The assembly qualified Rowe Elementary to become a Special Olympics Champion School, as a banner was presented to the school from Special Olympics. Champion Schools complete three levels of activation, including participating in Unified Sports or the Young Athletes Program; encouraging volunteering or hosting volunteer events at the school; and Whole-School Involvement activities, including assemblies and other all-encompassing events.

Along with the assembly, the young students were asked to write personal essays on why it is important to treat others with respect and how they would make an individual with a disability feel accepted. Several students read their essays in front of the assembly. Highlights from the essays, adjusted for spelling, included:

“Accept people as they are. If you are a good person you would accept people as they are and by doing that you would make someone’s day. By making someone’s day, that would make them feel special.”

  • Alan, 2nd Grade

“We all have to be respectful, friendly, caring, kind, helpful and tolerant of people who are different or have a disability. We are all special in our own ways, even if you are different, that’s OK because we are all different but we’re all humans.”

  • Stephanie, 3rd Grade

“Have you ever known someone with a disability? Well, I have. My cousin has a disability. I make him laugh by playing with him. When he can’t reach something, I get it for him. In conclusion, people like my cousin are just like you and me, and let’s treat them like we treat each other.”

  • Ian, 3rd Grade

“It is very important to respect others because if you want to be treated nicely, you should treat others nicely so you will get respect back.”

  • Asia, 5th Grade

“I would make a person with a disability feel accepted by letting them participate in any activities. I would help them with something if they do not understand. I would try to make them my friend.”

  • Adrian, 5th Grade

“Think about it, if you had a disability you wouldn’t want to be made fun of, so why would anyone else look forward to it? I bet you $1 million that you’ll get more friends and less enemies if you show respect to everybody.”

  • Janessa, 5th Grade

The Special Olympics Nevada Schools Partnership Program is a unique education program in K-12 schools that unifies students with and without disabilities through sports and Whole-School Involvement activities. These programs provide students with the knowledge, experience, and skills necessary to create and sustain school communities that promote inclusion, acceptance, and respect for all students.

Are you a teacher, or know someone who may be interested in creating a more inclusive environment in their school? Email schools@sonv.org or visit https://www.sonv.org/programs/schools-partnership-program for more information.

A Royal Court


Special Olympics Unified Basketball Tips Off with Primetime Exhibition Games

One shot. Two shots. Three shots.

On his fourth shot, Special Olympics Unified Basketball player Mauri dropped it through the hoop, sending hundreds of combined fans, families and students into a frenzy on Friday night at Tamalpais (Tam) High School in Mill Valley, California.

“I felt like Michael Jordan,” exclaimed Mauri, donning a new Nike headband and kicks to complement his San Rafael jersey.

Mauri was one of the Special Olympics athletes taking part in the first Unified Basketball game of the season on Friday, which brings together people with and without physical/intellectual disabilities to play on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle – that training and competing together is a quick path to friendship, understanding, and inclusion. Unified Sports is especially impactful in schools, where general education students are integrated with students in the special education program in a fun and active setting. Unified Sports is a way for people – and students – to interact with other populations with a common bond and team goal.

“I’ve seen a growth in confidence across the board,” said Michael Lovejoy, special education teacher and head coach for the Unified Basketball team at Tam. “It gives these students the sense that they are part of a strong community. That they’re not on an island.”


The 12-minute game between San Rafael and Tam was one of three Unified Basketball games across Marin County on Friday evening, each scheduled in primetime between the women’s and men’s varsity games. The showcase provided a unique opportunity to highlight Unified Basketball to a large, captive audience and bring more attention to the positive impacts that it can have on both the students in special education and general education programs.

Other games on Friday included San Marin High School hosting Terra Linda High School and Drake High School hosting Redwood High School – a thrilling game that ended on a last-second three-pointer by Special Olympics athlete Nic, sending fans and students from both schools flooding the court in celebration.

Special Olympics also made a brief public announcement and explanation of the program at each game, and the Athlete Oath was recited. Unified Basketball team lineups are comprised of three students in special education and two students in general education on the court together at a time.

At Tam, the players were introduced individually on the PA system and entered the court through a line of cheerleaders from each school, adding to the all-star experience. Varsity players from the Tam and San Rafael teams cheered on the athletes, giving high-fives and loud support throughout the entire game.

Tam Athletic Director Christina Amoroso hopes that Unified Sports will continue to grow throughout Marin County – and beyond.

“Mr. Lovejoy has done an amazing job of getting his students out within the general population and making them a visible part of the school community,” she said. “This type of inclusion has become the norm here.”

Along with impacting the students with special needs, Lovejoy added that he has noticed a positive influence on the general education students on his team as well.


“It changes what they do in their daily lives,” said Lovejoy, on the general education players. “They are filled with joy. The little problems that they may have had before become just little problems; which goes against the high school-age stereotype. Now we’ve seen on campus that students, especially those in the stands for these games, are greeting the athletes in the hallway – ‘Hey, great game!’ – and then later coming by my classroom to see how they can get involved.”

Unified Basketball has grown in the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) to six total teams this season. Unified Sports is offered in a variety of different sports with varying age ranges and levels, both within schools and in the community. Follow on Facebook and Twitter @SONorCal and Instagram @SpecialOlympicsNCA for updates throughout the season and check out the website for more information.

Learn More About Unified Sports (https://www.sonc.org/unified-sports).