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VT School Awarded National Recognition

Special Olympics and a national panel of leaders in education have developed ten standards of excellence for Unified Champion Schools. When these standards are met by a school, it is eligible to be a nationally recognized Banner Unified Champion School. Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans is one of the first schools in the country to achieve banner status! Read below to learn how this school is leading the movement.

Special Olympics Unified Sports

Standard 1: The school offers Unified Sports in at least 2 seasons throughout the school year.

BFA offers five sports throughout the school year including soccer and floor hockey in the fall, snowshoeing in the winter, and Interscholastic Unified basketball and bocce in the spring. Each season includes 8 weeks of training and culminates with a statewide competition.

Standard 2: Unified Sports participation occurs regularly of the course of each sport season and includes competition.

At BFA, Unified Sports practices occur during approximately 33 weeks out of the year. BFA also hosts the statewide Unified school bocce tournament.

Standard 3: An adult coach for each sport who has received training on Special Olympics Unified Sports

Coach Jim Naylor has current Special Olympics coaching certification in the following: Coaching Unified Sports, Soccer, Snowshoeing, Basketball, and Bocce.

Coach Kasia Bilodeau has current Special Olympics coaching certifications in the following: Soccer, Basketball

Coach Bill Mercier has current Special Olympics coaching certifications in the following: Coaching Special Olympics Athletes, Soccer, Snowshoeing, Basketball, Bocce.

Standard 4: Unified Sports is officially recognized by the school in a similar style to other athletics or activities.

BFA Unified sports teams wear uniforms that include the school name and practice and compete in school facilities. The school’s Athletic Director fully supports all Unified Sports activities and scheduling referees, buses, and facilities. BFA Unified Sports teams participate in athletic pep rallies alongside other teams.

Inclusive Youth Leadership

Standard 5: A Unified Club or student group offers leadership opportunities and training for students with and without intellectual disabilities.

BFA offers leadership opportunities for all students throughout the year. Students and coaches attend and present about inclusion at conferences and participate ind fundraising projects. IN 2016, a Unified partner submitted a grant for equipment and received $2,000. Several students are also founding members of the Special Olympics Vermont Youth Activation Committee.

Standard 6: The inclusive club or group meets at least once per month throughout the school year.

Students involved with Unified Sports at BFA meet weekly. Students have developed a strong Penguin Plunge fundraising team.

Standard 7: The inclusive group/club has an adult liaison and is officially recognized by the school.

Two adult coordinators mentor the Unified Sports club at BFA. They are recognized and compensated by the school as C0-Curricular positions.

Whole School Engagement

Standard 8: At least two whole-school engagement activities per school year.

The BFA school community engages in two whole-school activities each year. For the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, all student advisories are given video and written resources to encourage discussion about the the use of offensive language.  Students and staff are encouraged to sign a pledge to stop using the R-word. BFA students also participated in (and won!) Special Olympics Vermont’s R-word t-shirt design contest and were given shirts to wear. For the Penguin Plunge, recruited a team to jump into freezing Lake Champlain and raised over $6,000 for Special Olympics Vermont. BFA also hosts the Unified Schools Bocce  Tournament each spring.

Standard 9: Students with and without disabilities are involved with planning and leading the awareness activities.

Students helped run the Spread the Word campaign by handing out and wearing the t-shirt. They also recruited 25 students to participate in the Penguin Plunge.


Standard 10: Is currently self-sustainable or has a plan in place to sustain the three components into the future.

The Unified Sports program at BFA has made inclusive opportunities available to students for more than twenty years. It is part of the fabric of the school community. It is not going anywhere! Organizers no longer have to recruit students to be involved as athletes and partners are eager to join. Some students choose to come to BFA because of the Unified opportunities. As the Youth Activation Committee continues to grow with support from Special Olympics Vermont, I foresee more student-lead activities statewide. BFA will continue to involve students in the Unified Champion School activities and the program will continue to thrive with the support of our community. The program is supported financially through the school’s extracurricular budget, grants, fundraising projects, and the Penguin Plunge.

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