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Unified Champion Schools Launches Extensive Programme

by Eddie Rayner

Over 400 government and private schools across the UAE have committed to making their school communities more inclusive this year by registering for Unified Champion Schools, the Special Olympics UAE’s flagship programme that was relaunched at the start of the academic year 2021-2022.

Unified Champion Schools kicks off its term two calendar with programming targeting both students and teachers and designed to promote social inclusion in three key areas: Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement. Unified Robotics 2022 season, the largest robotics competition for neurodiverse students in the region, opened registration this January. Other Unified Sports programmes rolled out to schools include Unified Football and Unified Badminton.

Unified Champion Schools programme offers a flexible hybrid model of virtual and in-person events, resources, and activities to suit all types of learning and skill development for students. The programme also offers teachers significant training and development resources to empower them to run Unified Sports activities successfully in their schools, in a bid to become more inclusive and to bring about positive change to school communities.

Unified Robotics 2022 season launches on 6 February with each school entering one unified team, either in the primary or secondary age group. The competition season provides diverse tools and experiences such as coding robot simulations and complete challenges on a dedicated competition platform. Half of the unified school team members are neuro-diverse students, who compete alongside their unified partners (students without intellectual and developmental disabilities) and work together to learn the fundamentals of coding. The Unified Robotics 2022 national finals will take place in May 2022. Schools can register until 22 January.

Over 400 schools across the UAE join the Special Olympics UAE flagship programme

This school term, Unified Champion Schools also launches the Spread the Word: Inclusion campaign, encouraging schools to join this global inclusion movement and engage the whole-school community through various activities. The campaign, which is celebrated by a global network of schools and Special Olympics organisations worldwide, empowers student leaders to become champions of change to further social inclusion in their classrooms and communities.

This month will also see the launch of Unified Football and Unified Badminton, which offers resources and free teacher training for government and private schools nationwide on how to run Unified Sports sessions. Unified Sports provides a way to break down barriers and promote inclusion and meaningful involvement between students of diverse abilities through physical activity.

Inclusive Youth Leadership is one of three main components that form the Unified Champion Schools programme. Students are trained to embrace leadership opportunities to become changemakers and leaders in their communities. Inclusive leadership training will be provided in February, for teachers and educators to learn how to create inclusive and unified environments in their schools and by empowering students of all abilities to become leaders.

His Excellency Talal Al Hashemi, National Director of Special Olympics UAE, said: “We are delighted to see the hundreds of schools nationwide embrace and adopt the values of Unified Champion Schools to achieve inclusion across school communities. Whether in-person or virtual, Unified Champion Schools provides resources and tools to support students and teachers to create their own inclusive school community.

Schools can register until 22 January

“The widespread acceptance of the programme from schools mirrors the UAE’s leadership’s commitment to improving the lives of People of Determination. We thank all the schools and education groups, from management to teachers and support staff, for joining us in this commitment to make schools inclusive of students of all abilities.”

Samia Zaigham, Head of Design Technology at Al Yasat School, recipient of the Unified Robotics Innovate for Inclusion award, said: “We are excited to start our journey as a Unified Champion School. We are proud of our unified sports and have established a Unified Robotics club. We are passionate to see how we can build leadership in our students with the support of this programme and with the vision of Special Olympics.”

Hannah Dean, Early Years and Elementary PE Teacher at The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys, said: “The greatest impact we have seen from Unified Champion Schools and unified events has been an awareness of unified activities and how to adapt and change activities so that everybody can be included.”

Schools are encouraged to register for the Unified Champion Schools at any point year-round to access the wide array of resources and inclusive programming offered by Special Olympics UAE.

Registration is open via the Special Olympics UAE website www.specialolympics.ae. Schools will be recognised and awarded Unified Champion Schools at the end of the year.