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Special Olympics Hosts Unified Champion Schools Awards Ceremony

by Eddie Rayner

Special Olympics UAE hosted the Unified Champion Schools (UCS) Awarding Ceremony recognising the schools, students, and teachers dedicated to championing inclusion in school communities. The virtual event, which was live-streamed from Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, was the first award showcase for all the programmes, under the umbrella of UCS, that drive inclusion for People of Determination with intellectual and developmental disabilities in mainstream schools. The 39 award categories encompass sports, leadership, impact, and sustainable inclusion. The UCS Awarding Ceremony also included the announcement of the winners of the Unified Robotics competition, in its largest participation to date since its launch in 2019.

This year is the first awards showcase of outstanding athletes, partners, teachers, team leaders, and schools that have exemplified inclusion in implementing Unified Sports, and creating opportunities for leadership in innovation, impact, exposure, and sustainability. Among the winners, is Emirati youth leader, Ghalyah Al Hendi, a participant in the Unified Robotics competition, who with teammate Alyazia Al Hadhrami, co-founded Peoplability, an organisation funded by the Special Olympics UAE grant for inclusive youth leadership, which connects People of Determination with employment and university opportunities.

39 UAE students, teachers and schools were awarded across various categories

The Unified Robotics 2022 competition season, held in partnership with Atlab and supported by KPMG, concluded at the UCS Awarding Ceremony with the announcement of gold, silver, and bronze winners along with special award categories for schools that demonstrated inclusion, team spirit and innovation. This year recorded the highest participation to date with 700 neuro-diverse students and mainstream peers from 153 UAE schools competing together to complete robotics missions.

Students and schools from Emirates Schools Establishment (ESE) were widely represented in the Awarding Ceremony for demonstrating outstanding participation in implementing inclusion through UCS programmes and activities this academic year along with private schools across the UAE. To end the ceremony, over 200 schools that achieved Unified School status for the second term, by implementing one Unified Sport, were announced.

His Excellency Talal Al Hashemi, National Director of Special Olympics UAE said: “We are delighted to recognise all the outstanding efforts by individuals and schools in the Unified Champion Schools programme. The response to the programme has been extremely positive, and we are proud to recognise the students, teachers, and schools for their outstanding dedication to inclusion. This success sets an example of the UAE’s proactive commitment to inclusion, especially in education where youths can start their journey in life with the belief that inclusion is a norm, not an exception. We are very grateful to our country’s leadership for the unwavering support and all the schools, educational groups, students, and teachers who create environments of acceptance and inclusion for students of all abilities.”

Nader Haffar, Chairman and CEO of KPMG Lower Gulf said: “The Unified Robotics competition demonstrates the power of inclusion and how working together for better brings out the strength in all of us. We at KPMG are honored to inspire confidence and empower change through our partnership with Special Olympics and are committed to actively helping to create a better future for all.”

Over 200 Schools have achieved the status of Unified School since the start of the academic year 2021-2022

Hiren Amin, Lead Partner, Data and Analytics at KPMG also iterated: “We saw some incredible participant projects at the Unified Robotics competition this year. We were proud to witness student teams working together to code and measure, creating remarkable outcomes.”

Over 400 schools in the UAE have participated in the Special Olympics global flagship Unified Champion Schools programme in its first academic year of implementation at a nationwide scale. The programme is implemented through a calendar of events and activities under three main pillars: Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership and Whole School Engagement. Resources are offered to shape school environments that are inclusive to students of diverse abilities encouraging leadership, friendship, and teamwork. This includes ongoing training and support provided to teachers to further their skills in compassionate inclusion, managing Unified programmes and empowering students of diverse abilities.

The Unified Robotics competition, one of the largest unified competitions for neuro-diverse students in the region, is offered every year to schools as part of the UCS programme.

“Our Unified Robotics team of four comprises two students of determination and two Unified Partners have worked together really promoting the skills of communication and collaboration. It’s been very endearing seeing them grow together and showcase their skills to each other. We have been delighted throughout the course of the competition to see how they interact and depend on each other. There’s a high level of interdependence as well as student efficacy and I think that speaks volumes to the competition itself,” said Lorraine Haughey, Principal of Al Rayana Charter School.

The UCS Awarding Ceremony was streamed live from the event’s venue partner, Khalifa University campus in Abu Dhabi.

Registration for the UCS Programme is open throughout the academic year via the Special Olympics UAE website. To learn more on how your school can participate, please visit www.specialolympics.ae.