8 New York State High Schools Earn Highest Distinction for Unified School in Nation

Join 16 Other Schools Throughout the State as Special Olympics “Banner” Programs

Albany, NY – Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman today announced that eight New York high schools have been named new National Banner Unified Champion Schools, along with three more renewing their status for another four-year term. The distinction marks the highest level of achievement for Unified Champion Schools in the nation, recognizing their leadership in creating an inclusive school community where all students are accepted and celebrated.

The eight new Unified Champion Schools earning this prestigious honor are the following: Arlington High School, Columbia High School, Dunkirk High School, East Aurora High School, Niskayuna High School, Northport High School, Pembroke Junior-Senior High School, and Silver Creek High School. Additionally, three schools renewed their status: Cheektowaga High School, Guilderland High School, Iroquois High School.

In a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, students with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same teams. Schools also provide inclusive leadership clubs who engage the entire school community in activities that encourage and promote a positive school climate for all.

“Special Olympics Unified Champion Banner Schools are ensuring all students enjoy an inclusive future,” said Hengsterman. “It’s our privilege to honor these athletes, partners, coaches, administrators, and communities. They are the Unified Generation!”

Statewide, Special Olympics New York partners with more than 250 Unified Champion Schools and nearly 10,000 participating students. A partnership with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association has led to rapid Unified growth in recent years.

“The New York State Public High School Athletic Association is honored to partner with Special Olympics New York to provide incredible participation opportunities for students,” said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA Executive Director. “The Unified Sports program continues to positively impact students and their school communities throughout our state.”

A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated the highest commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence. The standards were developed by a panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community nationally. The primary activities within these standards include: Special Olympics Unified Sports (where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates), Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole-School Engagement. To achieve banner status, Unified Champion Schools must also demonstrate that they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities in the future.

These eight new schools joined 16 previously recognized Banner schools, bringing New York’s statewide total to 24 (including the three renewed schools).

To get involved in Unified Sports with Special Olympics New York, visit specialolympics-ny.org/unified or send an email to unified@nyso.org.