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:
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
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
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!
SAN MATEO COUNTY
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!