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 and


Basketball Unites High School Students

Unified basketball is making big changes at schools – one practice and one competition at a time. We had a blast seeing this at a Unified basketball tournament in Livermore!

Granada High School hosted rival Livermore High School and nearby Dublin High School for a riveting Unified basketball tournament. About 50 athletes – with and without disabilities – played together as teammates while more than 200 students cheered from the stands!


A student receiving special education services at Dublin High recounted that scoring and hearing the people cheering were his favorite parts.

Many of the general education students participating play on their varsity basketball teams. Some student aides from the special education classes also played on the Unified team. In the spirit of sportsmanship, some Granada general education students filled in on the Dublin team and said it was wonderful to play together regardless of ability. For many of the general education students playing, seeing and hearing all the fans cheering for every school highlighted the day.


Granada HS seniors volunteered as referees and some of the GHS cheerleaders offered their support as well! Students from nearby Joe Mitchell School even walked over to watch.

Livermore High School Athletic Director James Petersdorf said that Unified basketball is making a very real and accepting difference at his school. The varsity basketball players are now saying hello to their Unified basketball teammates on campus, something that Petersdorf notes has never happened before.

Granada Unified is adding bowling this week!

To see more about the power of Unified Sports, click here!

Thanks to Granada for hosting!

Mission High School Hosts Great Skills Day

Many different classes from across San Francisco Unified tried their hands at basketball at a skills day hosted by Mission High School! As we discussed in this blog entry, a skills day is a great way for student-athletes of all abilities to practice their sports fundamentals. It doesn’t matter whether the student-athletes are just like Mike or not – skills days allows everyone to excel.

High school students through transition (post-high school age) made their way to Mission High School to try their hand at basketball. Mission High School’s Best Buddies Club held Opening Ceremonies, where the Special Olympics Oath was recited and got the attendees excited for the day.Galileo 1 There were various stations set-up for student to practice their basketball skills to get themselves ready for the upcoming competitions. Students worked on their shooting, dribbling and passing during the skills day.

Galileo 3

It was great to see so many students and parents supporting the athletes in the gym!

Galileo 5

After classes made it through the skills portion of the event, Galileo Academy of Science and Technology and Mission High School put on a Unified basketball exhibition game! In Unified Sports, students with and without intellectual disabilities compete together on the same team.

Galileo 6

The game between Galileo and Mission was very competitive and the participants all had a great time! The Unified game had everyone in the gym cheering! Mission High School students filled the stands and congratulated the student-athletes after the game.

Galileo 7

All the students that came out to the event had a wonderful time! The general education student volunteers all had a great time, too! They helped at each skills station and got some one-on-one time with the student athletes. There were lots of high fives being given!

Thanks to Mission High School for hosting and for everyone who made this skills day a success!

A Parent’s Perspective

At the conclusion of the Special Olympics Unified basketball league in Brentwood and Oakley, a parent emailed her thoughts on the program to her son’s school. (If you’ve missed our posts on this Unified program, click here and here!) When we saw the letter, we just had to share it with everyone.

Hello Liberty Leaders,

I wanted to take just a moment to commend you all on the incredibly valuable experience provided to so many students recently through the Special Olympics Unified Sports basketball. I know that my son, Jake, truly enjoyed and completely embraced the experience playing on that team, and he is excited for possible other sporting events in the future. The general education students involved also got such an amazing life lesson, and not one they will soon forget.

I am so very proud that our high school district has embarked upon making programs like these part of the fabric woven into our community. This goes so far into creating a generation of tolerant and compassionate citizens for the future.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for taking this step. It is so appreciated, and our family is grateful beyond measure!!

Our best,

Mark and Lisa

When we asked her if she would mind us posting it to our blog, this was her response:

Absolutely! We’d be thrilled! Unified Sports is just the ticket for Jake, as he really, really wishes he was typical, and prefers typical kids, his siblings, and their friends. We are having a harder and harder time trying to explain that he isn’t quite up to the whole mainstream. So this mix is exactly what we needed! We are more grateful than you know for sure!

Thank you Lisa, Jake and everyone who helped make Special Olympics Unified Sports happen!

Brentwood, Oakley Schools Start Unified Basketball League

Special and general education students at three local high schools are teaming up for a new brand of basketball – a Unified Sports league in partnership with Special Olympics Northern California Schools Partnership Program! Heritage, Freedom and Liberty high schools have all assembled unified teams comprised of students receiving special education services and their non-disabled peers.

Unified Sports – a component of the SONC Schools Partnership Program – sees students with and without disabilities play on the same sports team. People of similar age and sporting ability are grouped into teams, making practices and games more challenging and exciting for all. You can read more about Unified Sports by clicking here.


Freedom High School Athletic Director Steve Amaro is the catalyst for the creation of the Unified Sports league in Brentwood and Oakley. Amaro connected with Special Olympics Northern California [SONC] at a national athletic directors conference. With support from SONC’s Schools Partnership Program, Amaro approached his counterparts at Heritage and Liberty high schools and collectively created a Unified basketball league.

“Steve, his staff and students have taken the ball and run with it,” SONC Vice President for School and Youth Services Cathy Domanski-DeVries said. “Steve had a concept and Special Olympics Unified Sports was the perfect program to help make it happen. Over the last three months, Steve and everyone involved have gotten buy-in from students, administrators and teachers. It’s really fantastic to see.”

14036944646_3da7fa3599_z (1)

Unified Sports promotes meaningful social inclusion, builds friendships and understanding between the two groups who might not have much positive interaction. With the common ground of sports, preconceptions and false ideas are swept away and replaced with mutual respect.


“I wanted to get involved to help my kids make more friends on campus and get the chance to play a sport after school,” said Jill Pasker, a life skills teacher at Freedom High School. “I want general education students to be more aware of kids with disabilities. I want students to know that kids with disabilities are just like them and they want to be accepted and included.”

For two weeks, teams practiced together to prepare for their league games. The students with disabilities will don their school colors and experience varsity sports in the same manner that the general education students do.

“Jill Pasker, Steve Amaro and myself have been thrilled with the warm reception this program has received so far,” Liberty teacher and coach Shannon Yancey said. “The varsity basketball players are psyched to practice and compete and are forming genuine relationships with our life skills students.”14060520474_efd64dec25_z

What an exciting league! We’ll have much more to come from Brentwood and Oakley in the near future!