Information provided by Adam Breen, San Benito High School District public information/community relations officer
The Special Olympics of Northern California has recognized San Benito High School as a Unified Champion School for the fourth year in a row.
According to a recent release, to qualify as a Unified Champion School, districts must have one or more inclusive sports (SBHS has unified soccer, basketball, gifted cheer and Gifted Games); one or more inclusive youth leadership opportunity (SBHS has students as unified soccer and basketball coaches, peer helpers, the Circle of Friends club, and ASB support of unified sports and planning of unified prom); and one or more school community awareness activity (Circle of Friends offers ability awareness presentations annually, gifted cheer performs at rallies and football and basketball games, special education peers from the general student population are encouraged to attend games to support SPED students, and Circle of Friends holds Ability Awareness Week each May).
In November 2017, SBHS student and special education peer helper Mariana Magana came up with the idea of a gifted soccer team, which began in Spring 2018 with special education teacher Tania Sauer and history teacher and girls’ varsity soccer head coach Becky Bonner serving as coaches and players from the varsity team as peer partners.
A partnership with Special Olympics followed, adding to the school’s history of inclusion through the Gifted Games, Circle of Friends, and gifted cheer. As the years progressed, SBHS added a gifted basketball season led by Coach Marlene Villegas and started gearing language more toward the Special Olympics “Unified” messaging. The school created Circle of Friends officer positions as unified sports coordinator and unified sports coaches.
To align with COVID-19 safety protocols and the district’s remote instruction model, the release stated SBHS has adapted its program to meet student needs in a distance learning format through staff leadership from Mrs. Guerrero, Mrs. Sauer and Breanna Brooks.
Unified officers on the Circle of Friends officer board meet weekly to discuss and plan at officer meetings. These students include President Lynnzi Weisner, Vice President of Inclusion Ellie Diaz, Unified Sports Coordinator Mia Villegas, and unified sports coaches Andrew Minana and Maraya Royster.
San Benito High School, with guidance from Cameron Ahmadian, Special Olympics of Northern California’s regional manager of Unified Sports, has followed a model with five-week seasons culminating in a virtual competition. Organizers are hoping to do this with soccer, basketball and track and field this year. They have set up a Google Classroom with Special Olympics resources and suggested asynchronous workout schedules. Unified Sports officers conduct two to three live Zoom workouts for gifted athletes. Last Spring, because of the school closure, SBHS held a virtual gifted prom and virtual Inclusion Week.
Included in previous on-campus activities, San Benito High School’s gifted sports in 2019 hosted Salinas’ unified basketball team for a game that had a huge turnout from our students. The gifted basketball team in March played in Salinas and had more games planned before the shutdown.
The first virtual season of this school year, unified soccer, started on Nov. 19. Circle of Friends has started monthly virtual inclusion Fridays, starting with volleyball in October, when Baler volleyball players led a virtual workout for the gifted athletes. The idea is to partner with different Baler sports every month to raise awareness and inclusion. Organizers are hoping to partner with cheer this month and football in December.