Special Olympics Virginia and Richmond Public Schools Partner to Promote Social Inclusion New Unified Champion City Schools®

Initiative Begins in All Elementary Schools in Richmond

“Unified Champion Schools has taught me the true meaning of inclusion and respect. It has granted me opportunities to befriend people different than me, to experience different things, to be a better person.” – Delaney Hurr, VA high school senior.

Students like Delaney have the power to positively influence their school communities – when given the chance. And that’s just what Special Olympics Virginia and Richmond Public Schools hope to do this school year as they join forces to activate the first Unified Champion City Schools (UCCS) program in Virginia.

UCCS is a focused approach to amplify the essentil elements of Unified Champion Schools (UCS) within city school districts. UCS empowers youth and educators to create more inclusive school climates where all students feel welcome and included – something that has only grown in importance as communities continued to recover the isolation COVID created, as well as the landscape of racial inequity.

Special Olympics Virginia has been building its UCS network across Virginia and currently, more than 200 schools participate in the initiative. UCS utilizes three interconnected components: Inclusive Youth Leadership, Whole School Engagement and Inclusive Sports.

To start, Special Olympics Virginia fully funded a new position within Richmond Public Schools for the 2021-22 school year. In August, Torrie Lashley was hired as a PE Specialist to spearhead the initiative alongside Special Olympics Virginia staff. In addition to working with PE teachers, Special Olympics Virginia is working with preschool programs and librarians to implement the programming.

"This program gives life to a quote one our Unified Champion Schools parents said recently, ‘At last, my child is part of her school.'"
Rick Jeffrey

"I am a firm believer that full inclusion begins with all of us,” Lashley said. “Our students will find the need to be involved, valued and accepted. It is critical that students develop a sense of belonging in our schools. It's important they learn how to be accepting of others. When students feel they belong, they can focus on learning and growing. At RPS, we will strive to illustrate this within our entire school district. As the newly appointed team member to both RPS and Special Olympics, I have a driven compassion to Lead and bring Unity across the entire district."

While much of this school year’s activity is focused at the elementary level, the goal is to expand into Richmond middle and high schools in the coming years. Currently,

  • All Richmond preschool classes (ECSE, VPI, Title 1 and Head Start) will implement Young Athletes curriculum starting in January. Young Athletes focuses on basic physical activities that develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination for students with intellectual disabilities ages 3-12; the program concludes with a large-scale district level showcase (Little Feet Meet) promoting whole school engagement.
  • All elementary school librarians are utilizing the Special Olympics Young Readers Club, during which students will read and discuss a selection of books promoting respect for people with differences.
  • All elementary schools will incorporate Special Olympics Virginia’s respect materials into their Inclusive Schools week Dec. 6-10.
  • Outside of the elementary space, four middle schools will launch a Unified Club and Unified Sports activities.

“Everyone at Special Olympics Virginia is excited about the Unified Champion City Schools partnership with the Richmond Public Schools,” said President Rick Jeffrey. “The main purpose of Unified Sports is social inclusion and 95% of schools involved in this program felt it had created a more socially inclusive school environment. This program gives life to a quote one our Unified Champion Schools parents said recently, ‘At last, my child is part of her school.’”