Special Olympics New Mexico is pleased to announce that Mayfield High School in Las Cruces New Mexico has been named one of the top 5 schools in the nation for their inclusive school atmosphere and unified sports by ESPN. Mayfield was selected out of the 155 Banner School Recipients across the country this year. They are both the first high school in Las Cruces to become a banner recipient and the first school in New Mexico to be named in the Top 5.

A Special Olympics Unified Champion School Banner Recipient demonstrates commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence receives national banner recognition.

A Special Olympics Unified Champion School has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement and respect for all members of the student body and staff. A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence. These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.

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. Banner Unified Champion Schools should also be able to demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities into the future. In total, there are 518 banner schools across the country (8 in New Mexico) and over 7600 schools participating in the program nationwide (37 in New Mexico).

The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is aimed at promoting social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change. With sports as the foundation, the three component model offers a unique combination of effective activities that equip young people with tools and training to create sports, classroom and school climates of acceptance. These are school climates where students with disabilities feel welcome and are routinely included in, and feel a part of, all activities, opportunities and functions.

This is accomplished by implementing inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership opportunities, and whole school engagement. The program is designed to be woven into the fabric of the school, enhancing current efforts and providing rich opportunities that lead to meaningful change in creating a socially inclusive school that supports and engages all learners. What a Unified Champion School “looks like” can vary greatly from school to school, based on the needs, goals, schedules and other factors unique to each school; but the basic building blocks remain the same.

Last year, Mayfield hosted a unified kickball game where athletes from the Lady Trojans soccer team played alongside students with disabilities to create a fun and lively competition. Students from other clubs and organizations also helped make the day special by helping with opening ceremonies, acting as cheerleaders, and fans in the stands. Mayfield also had their second annual basketball game planned for later in the year but had to cancel due to school closures.

For more information on Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools and how to get your school involved, please contact Rebecca Whitlock at Rebecca@sonm.org.