By Aubrey Pilotte
I was introduced to Unified Champion Schools the moment I entered Grafton High School. I am a senior now at Grafton and I have seen the full effects of Unified Champion Schools in my school community.
Grafton High School implemented all three components of the program – unified sports, youth leadership, and whole school engagement. Through my experience, I have participated in Unified Bocce, Unified Basketball, and Unified Track and Field. Grafton High School also offers Unified Flag Football. Freshman year I had played sports other than unified and my transition the following year to all unified sport truly changed myself and the people around me. I witnessed first-hand how accepting, motivational, and passionate Unified Sports were. I saw our teams and our fans grow in size. Unified Sports is much more than just another sport or after school activity at Grafton.
As for youth leadership at Grafton, opportunities are just as plentiful. My school offers Best Buddies where attendance has now reached over 200 students (40% of the student body)! We also have MASC Student Council that not only coordinates with SOMA, but has Special Olympics Chair on the Executive Board. I held this chair position this past year. My leadership involvement here included coordinating the teams for the Unified Sports, and organizing awareness and community events for Special Olympics. Grafton High School is also represented on the State Youth Activation Council, otherwise known as the YAC. High School students from all over the state are selected via an application process, and meet once a month. These students cultivate and implement ideas to activate youth at other schools to share with students and other leadership in the schools.
The final component, whole school engagement, is, in my mind, the most impactful aspect of the program at my school. For example, we participate in the MASC Polar Plunge every year. At the regional SOMA events as well as our own unified events, the fans in the stands attendance from Grafton is enormous. Posters are made and the cheers are so rewarding for all the athletes. Annually, Grafton holds an R-Word Assembly. The entire student and staff body attends this assembly in the gym. Following the assembly, the school cheers from the
stands while the unified basketball team has a mini game in the gymnasium. Seeing students and staff who do not participate in unified sports or youth leadership cheer from the top of their lungs for these athletes brings me pure joy.
This inclusive community would not be made possible without Unified Champion Schools. Unified Champion Schools is more than just three components at Grafton High School.
Throughout my three years I have seen a significant change in my school community. Special Education students have friends from all grades who they meet up with in the halls and out of school to hang out. As a whole, my school has become unbelievably inclusive and the r-word is not thrown around. Every one of all intellectual abilities gets along without the exclusion and judgement I had seen my freshman year. Unified Champion Schools was absolutely the best program Grafton High School could have implemented. It gave my school the necessary tools for inclusion. Unified Champion Schools has changed the special education students daily lives and the entire community of my school.