Chicago To Play, Live Unified

Special Olympics Illinois to join Special Olympics Unified Champion City Schools® initiative to accelerate urban programming and promote social inclusion

Contact: Alexandra McMillin

Chicago, Illinois – 10/14/2021: Special Olympics Illinois and Chicago Public Schools are partnering in the Special Olympics North America Unified Champion City Schools (UCCS) initiative this fall. UCCS is a focused approach to amplify the essential elements of Unified Champion Schools (UCS) within city school districts. UCS utilizes three interconnected components for social inclusion in schools:

·      Special Olympics Unified Sports® (joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team)

·       Inclusive Youth Leadership (when young people of all abilities are given opportunities to be leaders in their schools and communities)

·       Whole-school engagement (creates a school climate that fosters understanding and respect for all and can influence how students think and act within and beyond the school)

There are nearly 8,000 Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® in the United States and Special Olympics North America (SONA) has a goal to reach 10,000 schools by the 2023-2024 academic school year. Currently, 26% of Unified Champion Schools are in urban school districts but only 7% are urban schools of the highest need. Special Olympic Illinois will be one of 11 U.S. state Programs to implement the UCCS initiative, which will focus on expanding inclusive programming within city school districts.

Special Olympics Illinois will be implementing the UCCS initiative • Special Olympics Illinois will be supporting the implementation of the UCCS initiative in a number of elementary, middle, and high schools as well as colleges within Chicago during the 2021-2022 school year.

There is great need to increase programming in Chicago as less than 10% of current Chicago schools are offering Unified programming. Special Olympics Illinois plans to implement the UCCS initiative by engaging in new collaboration while expanding on the success of existing partnerships with Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges of Chicago, Anixter Center, the Chicago Police Department and more.

“We are thrilled to launch the “Unified Champion City Schools” initiative across the U.S.!  This initiative is a reimagined commitment to energizing inclusivity in city schools. The local teams that have signed on to drive this effort will dedicate time, attention and resources in a focused and community-centric way. Youth with and without intellectual disabilities in some of the country’s most diverse cities will have access to quality programming that supports social inclusion through leadership, sports and friendships. We’re looking forward to seeing this initiative take root and to positively reshape attitudes and actions that will amplify the unified generation for all young people.” -Andrea Cahn, Vice President, Unified Champion Schools

“Special Olympics began in Illinois with the first games at Soldier Field in July 1968 thanks to the efforts of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her peers. There are now more than 5.7 million athletes in 200 countries and jurisdictions. Just as Chicago was the birthplace of Special Olympics, Chicago will also lead the movement as the first-ever city to implement the Unified Champion City Schools initiative. We are thrilled to further inclusive efforts throughout the City of Chicago. –Dave Breen, President & CEO, Special Olympics Illinois

This initiative is generously funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education. Through these dedicated funds and with the support of the SONA team, UCCS programming has the capability to empower the youth, inform educators, and support caregivers and community leaders to become the influencers of change in their schools and communities. The time is right for systematic approaches to position city schools as models of what is possible.

View photos from this press conference.

About Special Olympics Illinois
Special Olympics Illinois is a not-for-profit sports organization offering year-round training and competition in 18 sports for more than 23,100 athletes with intellectual disabilities and over 13,000 Young Athletes ages 2-7 with and without intellectual disabilities. It strives to be a global leader in shaping a culture where people with and without intellectual disabilities are fully integrated into the community by providing year round opportunities in competitive sports, health education, leadership and personal development. If you are interested in being a part of Special Olympics Illinois and its vision, contact your local region, call 800-394-0562 or visit our website. Follow Special Olympics Illinois on Follow Special Olympics Illinois on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.