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South View Special Olympics Unified Champion status to be featured in education magazine

Representatives from Special Olympics MN interview and photograph a South View student. May 6, 2019 - South View Middle School will be recognized as one of Minnesota’s premier Unified Champion Schools in the fall issue of the Association of Middle Level Education (AMLE) Magazine. Staff from Special Olympics Minnesota (SOMN) visited South View last week to interview staff and students for a story around the topic of “teaching social responsibility.”

South View was the first middle school in Minnesota to earn Unified Champion School status by Special Olympics in 2015. Champion status requires a commitment to inclusion and leadership opportunities, unified sports, and whole school engagement. Nick Cedergren, schools and leadership manager for SOMN, said South View was the first school that came to mind when AMLE contacted him for help with their story.

Programs and activities that unify the student body across the ability spectrum have become standard at South View, thanks to the leadership of Jennie Schaefer, special education teacher, and Tami Jo Cook, dean.

The school’s Peer Insights group was begun in 2010, organized by Schaefer and Jessica Cherne, formerly a South View special education teacher, now at Creek Valley. It provides opportunities for general education and special education students to have fun together and be leaders in their school. Peer Insights coordinates the school-wide awareness campaign, “Spread the Word to End the ‘R’ Word” and organizes mix-it-up day in the cafeteria, encouraging kids to sit with people they don’t know. The Peer Insights group also likes to dance. They participate in dance marathons to raise funds for Special Olympics and they produce an occasional dance flash mob during lunch hour to raise awareness and invite involvement with Peer Insights.

Another important step was to “rebrand” the program serving students with developmental and cognitive delays. Five years ago, it went from being called DCD to ASPIRE. “We wanted to call it something that better reflects what the program and the students are all about,” said Cook. “We liked the new name because it reflects that our students are soaring to new heights in their accomplishments,” Schaefer said.

South View is not the only district school that has been recognized by Special Olympics. Edina High School is also designated a Unified Champion School. Two years ago, the school’s unified soccer team had the honor of representing Minnesota in a Special Olympics soccer match in conjunction with the professional teams from Minnesota and Houston. Ongoing programs such as Hornet Connections (similar to Peer Insights) and Theater for All, bring students together in ways that promote understanding and growth, and provide opportunities to pursue common interests.

Cedergren and a communications specialist for SOMN, spent most of a day touring South View, taking photos and interviewing teachers and students. “It is an honor to be recognized by Special Olympics Minnesota as an outstanding program that benefits everyone involved,” Schaefer said. “Seeing the relationships that develop and way that the program models unity for the entire school is what has driven me to continue to grow the program.”  

Cedergren said they expect the story they write will appear in AMLE’s magazine this coming fall. Stay tuned!

(Pictured above: Charlie Mastel, a South View eighth grader, was interviewd and photographed by staff from Special Olympics Minnesota for an article featuring the school's ASPIRE and Peer Insights program to appear in the Association of Middle Level Education Magazine.)

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