Special Olympics Project Unify® gathers to talk about acceptance

July 13, 2010

WASHINGTON D.C./July 13, 2010–The Special Olympics Project UNIFY® National Education Conference (NEC) and the National Youth Activation Summit (YAS) will take place simultaneously on the University of Nebraska, Omaha campus beginning Sunday, July 18th. Special events throughout the conferences include a Leadership Roundtable at the Governor’s Residence, debut of Project UNIFY’s play “It’s Our School, Too!”, numerous collaboration sessions, activities around the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games as well as a Youth Rally which will serve as the Closing Ceremony of the National Games. Participants of both the NEC and YAS will spend time together, learning from one another and taking back the lessons, ideas and strategies for creating more inclusive environments to their respective school communities.

“For the first time, we are bringing national education leaders, general educators and special educators together to enhance their understanding and skills for creating true inclusive service-learning and youth leadership in their classrooms. Having their conference side by side with our youth-led YAS provides a tangible example to teachers of the readiness of young people of all abilities to be leaders for change in their communities,” said Andrea Cahn, Senior Director of Project UNIFY. “This is a crucial, collaborative step in launching young people and educators forward with a strong call to action– making change towards greater acceptance and a broader vision of inclusion of all people in their communities as a result of their experiences at the conferences.”

To start off the week of activities, a Leadership Roundtable–supported by the U.S. Department of Education, and co-hosted by Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, and Sally Ganem, Nebraska First Lady and a former educator and school principal–will engage national education leaders and policy makers around making a broader, more unified vision of inclusion a national priority within education reform. Invited participants will address the critical issues that have implications for Special Olympics, their Project UNIFY initiative and society at-large and commit to a statement of purpose behind which all constituencies can align their work. The Roundtable will be held in the Governor’s Residence in Lincoln on Sunday, July 18 at 11:00am CT.
The YAS is a completely youth-designed and facilitated week of activities–from Sunday, July 18 to Friday, July 23– that will provide a forum where participants acquire and enhance knowledge and skills needed to activate youth around the country. Through the YAS, youth leaders will increase their understanding of how social justice movements effect change and learn how to apply these tactics in their communities, using Special Olympics as the catalyst for inclusion.

Co-hosted with the University of Nebraska, Omaha, the NEC will be facilitated by both educators and youth with and without intellectual disabilities. Special and general educators from across the United States will participate from Sunday, July 18 to Wednesday, July 21, focusing on best practices of acceptance in the classroom, and how to use inclusive opportunities to enhance the school climate. There will be significant overlap and interaction between the YAS and the NEC in order to promote a laboratory effect with cross-over topics including advocacy, social networking, diversity and youth engagement.

Commissioned by Special Olympics Project UNIFY and based on interviews with youth, It’s Our School, Too! is a play that explores the current realities for high school youth with intellectual disabilities. Told with honesty and humor, the story examines the barriers faced by youth, as well as the world of possibilities when young people with and without disabilities come together to create meaningful school change. It’s Our School, Too! is written by Suzy Messerole and Aamera Siddiqui–co-Artistic Directors of Exposed Brick Theatre in Minneapolis, MN–and will have two performances at the Strauss Performing Arts Center in Omaha, NE on Monday, July 19 and Tuesday, July 20 at 7:00pm CT. Tickets can be purchased the day of performance at the box office and are $10/adult, $5/child, and $20 for a family of 4.

The National Youth Rally will be the culminating event held in conjunction with the Closing Ceremony of the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games on Friday, July 23. The Rally will celebrate a week of athletic achievements and will launch a legacy of commitment to youth service. An estimated 5,000 young people, with and without intellectual disabilities, will be in the audience for an inspiring and motivational event that will be a call to action for renewed commitment to respect, dignity and acceptance for all.
The full schedule of the NEC, speaker bios and more are available at http://coe.unomaha.edu/sonec/m; YAS schedule and additional information are available by contacting Andrea Cahn at acahn@specialolympics.org.

Project UNIFY, as well as the education and youth activities at National Games, are made possible in large part through funding by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

About Project UNIFY
Special Olympics Project UNIFY ® is a strategy that takes the concept of inclusive, unified, sports opportunities learned on the playing field and brings them into the school hallways and classrooms. Project UNIFY extends the important lessons about teamwork and the contributions each child can make through sport and non-sport school-based education activities, promotes understanding, acceptance, and appreciation for each other’s gifts. Almost 2,000 schools in 45 states, and more than 626,000 students participated in the first 18 months of Project UNIFY activities. To learn more, please visit www.specialolympics.org.
Jennifer Brooks
Special Olympics

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