Hi, I’m Jerry! I’m an athlete from Special Olympics Virginia and been competing for almost 15 years. I work with Special Olympics Project UNIFY in Washington, DC. I’m here to tell you my view on why Project UNIFY is important. More important, I express why Project UNIFY is important for our high schools.
Today’s high school students face many challenges, such as fitting in with people, being involved within the community, doing well academically, deciding where to go to college and finding a job. These challenges do come with the stress and pressure of everyday life after high school. However, the stress and pressure becomes overwhelming for some groups of students in high school. One group in particular is students with intellectual disabilities or ID.
Students with ID are always misunderstood and labeled because of their appearance not for their abilities. They often find it hard to fit in with their peers in and out of the classroom setting. Their peers bullied them because they are different from them. The teachers sometimes try to intervene on behalf of the students with ID but sometimes can make things worse for them. It is this kind of exclusion by the high school’s environment that makes the high school experience difficult for students with ID. However, Project UNIFY® changes the high school experience for the entire school community.
Project UNIFY® is important to high schools because today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. Young people with and without ID are becoming agents of changes for their high schools and communities. All young people can change the preconceptions towards people with ID from negative to positive. Through acts of inclusion, advocacy, acceptance, respect, and dignity both groups are proving that having an intellectual disability does not mean you are limited to certain activities and places.
These positive social relationships between both student groups are the first step but there are still changes to be made. Changes about the perception of what people with ID are capable of such as competing in sports, speaking in public, going to college and finding fulfilling employment. All young people in high school are capable of bringing change through Special Olympics and Project UNIFY®. From volunteering with Special Olympics to becoming friends with Special Olympics athletes, high school students are becoming aware of societal issues, uniting with students with ID to address those societal issues and then acting to bring forth change.
Through Project UNIFY® students without ID garner an entirely new perspective about people with ID. It has show that students with ID are capable of being a core contributor in their schools and communities. As a society we need to change our preconceptions about people with ID. In the end, all young people are capable of being agents of change and Project UNIFY® is at the center of the youth’s transformation.
Check out Project UNIFY in action!