FHS Recieves National Special Olympic Banner

National Special Olympics Banner Awarded to Fairhaven High School
Posted on 09/16/2022

In the basement of Fairhaven High School, students in Mrs. Allaire’s sub-separate special education class gathered for their regular Monday morning class. However, on this particular Monday, disabled students awaited exciting news.

On September 10, 2022, Special Olympics International awarded Fairhaven High school a national banner of excellence in inclusion, advocacy, and respect. Fairhaven was one of 12 Massachusetts schools who received the prestigious honor, and Fairhaven now joins 164 nationwide schools with the achievement.

In a letter sent to Fairhaven High School, Special Olympics International Chairman Eric Shriver writes:

“Your school community has shown impressive determination and is helping us move towards our collective goal of creating a truly ‘Unified Generation’ of young people who embrace differences and lead social change. You are literally redefining the future as you make your communities more inclusive of people with intellectual disabilities, and in doing so, making the world a more accepting place for all.”

Special Olympics Massachusetts added:

“Receiving National Banner recognition is truly an outstanding and well-deserved achievement for these 12 schools. It shows that they have truly embraced what it means to be inclusive both on and off the playing field, in the classrooms and in their communities,” said Patti Doherty, Vice President of schools and Community Development for Special Olympics Massachusetts. “Not only do these schools offer Unified sports, youth leadership and whole school engagement within their school, but they have elevated it to the next level and have reached the standards of excellence set forth at a national level.”

“I literally began to tear up and got goosebumps, “ said Angela Allaire, special education teacher at Fairhaven High School. “It meant so much to me. In 20 twenty years, I feel like we’ve come a long way, and we’re finally in a place where disabled students are finally being included in a multitude of ways.”

Fairhaven High School will receive a Special Olympics banner at an award ceremony later in the school year.

Mrs. Allaire’s students couldn’t hold back their excitement about the national recognition. “I was shocked. We worked so hard to get to where we are, “ said Isaiah.

“It means a lot. Everyone gets to work together no matter what. The team is positive, and this experience has made me a better person,” Austin added

“It feels awesome. However, there is more improvement to come,” said Maddie. “We need more banners!”

Unified Basketball team

The Road to Inclusion

Students in Mrs. Allaire’s sub-separate special education class spent most of their time isolated in one room of Fairhaven High School. However, in the past ten years, the school identified and piloted new programs to foster social and peer engagement for disabled students.

In the spring of 2019, Mrs. Allaire teamed up with physical education teacher Karen Stachowiak, athletic director Chris Carrig, and physical education teacher Chris Foster to create Fairhaven’s first-ever unified basketball team.

For the first time, Fairhaven High School students with disabilities could play basketball with other schools and alongside other teen mentors. One year later, the Unified Sports team began competing in a second sport, Unified Track.

The addition of unified sports to Fairhaven High School has a lasting effect on teachers and students. “I never coached regular sports at Fairhaven High School, but being a part of this team was more amazing than any other sport,” Karen Stachowiak added.

“I’ve been on the team for four years. At first, I didn’t like playing on the court,” said Emma, a unified athlete. “But now I love it! This team is like my second family.”

Austin added, “The team is positive, no matter what happens. Even when we win or lose.”

Special olympic athletes receive hero's send off

Shortly after the spring of 2019, unified athletes got a chance to compete in Fairhaven’s first ever Special Olympics competition. Prior to the event, Special Olympic athletes received a hero’s sendoff as the entire school flooded the hallways to cheer on their fellow students.

The Unified and Special Olympics team endured a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic but roared back in 2022. Competing in two seasons of unified sports, competing in the Southcoast Special Olympics, and even qualifying for the Massachusetts Special Olympics Championship for Track and Field.

Expanding Inclusion

Angela Allaire’s goal is simple: “The goal is to foster more peer connections for our students.”

In the next few months, Fairhaven High School will receive a national banner from the Special Olympics International to hang in the gymnasium. As inclusion at Fairhaven High School progressed, the special education team still saw more work needed.

The special education department at Fairhaven High School now explores new opportunities to engage students with disabilities across the district. One pilot program being developed pairs high school students with disabilities into mentor groups with similar middle and elementary school students. The community also seeks to include more middle and elementary students during unified sports games and Special Olympics competitions and expand their unified sports offerings.

Unified Club: A New Inclusion Program

At Fairhaven High School, Angela Allaire and Karen Stachowiak now organize the school’s first Unified Club, inviting students of all ages and abilities to meet once a month to play games, create arts and crafts, or perform in a dance and karaoke party.

“We really want to get a variety of students altogether.” Angela Allaire said of the Unified Club. We want to foster connections with all students, not just athletes, and get kids who are not into sports to connect with our students.”

The Unified Club has its first meeting Monday, September 19, 2022, in FHS room 106 directly after school. Anyone is welcome to join and attend the unified club's first meeting.

About Special Olympics Massachusetts:

Special Olympics Massachusetts provides year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programming for over 14,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities across the state in over 500 sporting competitions each year. Through the power of sport, the Special Olympics movement transforms the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Learn more, http://www.specialolympicsma.org
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