BEND, OR -- Bend Senior High was honored Thursday for its commitment to helping students of all ability levels feel included, in the classroom and in athletics.
Jean Hansen, with Special Olympics Oregon, helped present a banner recognizing the school as a Unified Champion School at a school-wide assembly. "Bend High was one of our first schools, 10 years ago, to start a Unified Champion School program. And so, Bend is one of 83 to receive national recognition and one of four here in the state of Oregon; so we’re very proud of what they’re doing here." The other Oregon high schools are in Forest Grove, Sutherlin and West Linn.
Hansen tells KBND News, "Bend High School has a Unified soccer team, a basketball team and a softball team. That ‘unified’ means you have students both with and without intellectual disabilities competing on the same teams; and then, they compete against other high schools who have unified teams. Last year, they were one of four schools to participate in the first ever OSAA Unified Championship. Bend is totally leading the charge and that’s why we’re here celebrating them."
Athletes from those unified teams crashed through a Lava Bears banner to raucous applause from the student body, to kick off Thursday's pep rally. The Special Olympics Unified Champion School banner was unveiled during the event, which was co-hosted by ESPN soccer analyst Kasey Keller and featured a special video appearance by Portland Trailblazer Damian Lillard (pictured below). He told students, "Congratulations Bend High School, on creating a school climate of inclusion, of being an example and a model for schools across the country."
To earn Unified Champion School status, Hansen says, "There’s 10 standards that the school had to complete: Youth advocacy, inclusion – in both the school community and in the classroom, and in the sports field, had to do with leadership, respect – showing respect for all. And so, Bend High School exceeded all of those 10 parameters." She says the attitude of respect extends beyond the school into the community as a whole. And, she adds, what Bend High has been doing for a decade is now being duplicated at other schools in the district and across Oregon.