FIFE, Wash. — Fife High School got recognized nationally on Wednesday as one of the top five schools in the country for inclusion – and the effort was led by students.
The honor comes from ESPN and the Special Olympics for meaningful social inclusion for students with intellectual disabilities, and for creating an accepting school environment.
The band was blasting, students cheering - the enthusiasm at Fife High School was through the roof on Wednesday.
The students celebrated -- and exemplified - something they're doing better than almost every other school in the country: being unified, including their peers, and yes -- making high school a kind place.
“I've never felt more loved and appreciated,” said one student during the assembly, tearing up as she spoke. The crowd cheered her on. “You’ve changed my life,” she said.
It's an idea that came from the Special Olympics.
“You start to see the power that sport has to be this great equalizer,” said Dave Lenox, the Special Olympics Washington CEO. “We shifted from doing something just for our athletes, to doing something for the community and every student in the school,” he said.
At Fife High, Zoie Breland started a Unified club two year ago, and the students ran with it.
“It’s exploded into this massive thing that's changing the culture of not only our school but also our community,” Breland said.
She said students with special needs were in separate classrooms, didn't play on the sports teams, but since the club, it’s all changed.
“We have a unified prom, unified soccer, unified basketball,” she said.
“We’re looking specifically for each other's abilities and things we're good at, because we want each other to be successful,” Breland said. “Unified has given our athletes confidence in themselves, but also other students confidence in them as well - because they can see what they’re capable of doing. They don’t just have a disability, they have more than that,” she said.
On the court, athletes with and without disabilities played a game Wednesday that you wouldn’t forget.
Some players held hands as they ran down the court. Other players bent the rules a little – but it didn’t seem to bother anyone.
And on the buzzer – one special needs student sank the ball for a final point – and the students nearly took down the roof with the cheering.
The pride and support for their fellow Trojans -- overwhelming.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made a surprise appearance and recognized the students.
“We have students here leading the State of Washington and the U.S,” Inslee said. I want to thank you,” he said.
You can see why Fife High School is getting honored by ESPN and the Special Olympics as top five in the whole United States for being unified.
They were presented with a banner that marks the school as a “National Unified Champion School.” It’s now raised as a reminder to themselves, and to others.
“I pledge to show empathy, and to accept others. I pledge to live for those who feel alone, or who need a friend. I pledge to over come the fear of difference and replace it with the power of inclusion. I choose to include,” the students chanted at the end.
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