Shenendehowa High School Earns National Recognition as Leader in Creating an Inclusive School Community

CLIFTON PARK, NY – Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman today announced that Shenendehowa High School has earned National Banner status in recognition of its leadership in creating an inclusive school community. The distinction, made by Special Olympics North America, marks the highest level of achievement within the Special Olympics Unified Sports movement.

In a Special Olympics Unified Champion School like Shenendehowa, students with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same sports teams. They also lead events and activities throughout the year that encourage all students to practice and value inclusion. At hundreds of these schools statewide, the program is reducing bullying and teasing, overturning negative stereotypes, and spurring healthy social interactions.

“If you want to see what true acceptance and inclusion looks like, go to a Unified game or walk the halls of a Unified Champion School,” said Hengsterman, whose children also attend Shenendehowa High School. “Students and coaches playing Unified are changing the world, and Shen has proven to be one of the best of the best. We look forward to working with our partners across the state this school year to continue meeting an urgent – and growing – need for Unified Sports in New York’s schools and communities.”

Shenendehowa High School has offered Unified Sports since 2014. Hundreds of students at the school currently play Unified basketball and bowling.

“We are so proud of the entire Shen community for being named a Special Olympics National Unified Champion Banner School,” said Superintendent Dr. L. Oliver Robinson. “We aim to be a leader in inclusion for all, and this recognition demonstrates our commitment to set a positive example for other school districts nationwide.”

“It is a great honor to be selected as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School. This program represents the best of everything we do at Shenendehowa,” said Athletic Director Christopher Culnan. “I could not be more proud of the work that Carley Galarneau and Rob Weeks have done to make sure every student in the program feels included and valued.”

“I am so proud of each and everyone of our students who have been a part of this program throughout the years,” Coach Carley Galarneau, Physical Education teacher and Coach of Shen’s Unified Program, said. “It’s because of their commitment to inclusion and acceptance that our school can earn this honor.” Coach Rob Weeks added, “I feel very fortunate to work in a district that recognizes the importance of inclusion.”

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 are: Special Olympics Unified Sports, 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 into the future.

“Unified Sports is one of the most rewarding programs the NYSPHSAA offers,” said Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA Executive Director. “Unified Sports allows everyone to feel included and be part of a team. We want to congratulate Shenendehowa for their recognition by Special Olympics New York.”

Special Olympics New York and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association have collaborated to offer the Unified Champion Schools program since 2013. An ongoing campaign by Special Olympics New York aims to attract new schools to the movement, using the tagline: “If you don’t have this at your school, you should!” Interested schools can get started by visiting this link or contacting unified@nyso.org.


About Special Olympics New York

Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 51,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with about 250 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports, where students with and without disabilities compete as teammates. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. The organization has earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.com, making it one of the most trusted charities in the business nationally. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.