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SPECIAL OLYMPICS UNIFIED CHAMPION SCHOOLS

Three Las Cruces schools receive national Special Olympics recognition

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Mayfield High School, Picacho Middle School, Sierra Middle School and Valley View Elementary -- all Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools (SOUCS) within Las Cruces Public Schools -- are receiving national banner recognition for their efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities for students with and without disabilities.

The schools are receiving this honor as a result of meeting national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy and respect, Special Olympics New Mexico (SONM) announced in a news release.

Mayfield, Picacho, Sierra and Valley View will be among a select number of schools to receive the recognition. Each school will receive a banner and will be included on a national list of schools that have achieved this distinguished status. This is the third year of recognition for Picacho and Sierra, the second year for Valley View and the first for Mayfield.

“Going into these schools, you see a definite difference in their attitudes about inclusion compared to when they started,” SONM Program Manager for SOUCS Rebecca Whitlock said in the news release. “In all of these schools, inclusion and disability acceptance is just part of the culture now.”

SOUCS is a strategy that intentionally promotes meaningful social inclusion by bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities to create accepting school environments in all grade levels. About 40 schools are participating in SOUCS programming in New Mexico, as part of more than 7,500 schools across the country engaged in the program. SOUCS aims to expand to 10,000 schools by the end of the 2023-24 school year.

The SOUCS model is supported by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education. This model has been proven, through research, to be an effective and replicable means to providing students with and without disabilities the opportunity to form positive social relationships and promote a socially inclusive school climate, the news release said.

In an evaluation conducted by the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, 94 percent of teachers/school staff said SOUCS increases opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities to work together, 98 percent of involved teachers believe participation in the program has increased the confidence of students with disabilities and 92 percent credit SOUCS with reducing bullying, teasing and offensive language, the news release said.

 Visit www.sonm.org.