Today we are sharing an inspiring story on how the Unified Champion School program has transformed Creekview Elementary into a school that accepts and knows the children in the Special Education program by name. This program was given a head start when KimberLeigh Nagel began a club called UNITY, where general education students pair up with Special Education students to play games and build their social skills. This club turned into so much more. Below is an incredible story that KimberLeigh wrote about how her students have changed exponentially while being involved in this program.
My name is KimberLeigh Nagel and I am the school coordinator for UNITY Club; our Unified Champion Schools group. This is our first year working with this program and it has made a huge impact on the atmosphere in our school. Our initial meeting was just informational for the students invited to join UNITY Club. We wanted them to get an understanding of our purpose for the club and get them thinking about how they could help everyone at Creekview Elementary. We challenged the students to begin thinking of ways to include all students in our campus-wide events. After that initial meeting, all meetings were held with all students in the club. By the end of the year, we had 15 participating general education students and 16 students with special needs in UNITY Club.
The first thing the students wanted to do was find ways to spend time together and get to know each other. We began a morning social skills time. Club members were invited to sign up (five students each day maximum) to come down to the Structured Learning Lab classrooms and play games with the students. Friendships began to form, which was so much fun to watch. This transferred over to recess time where our students were being invited to join groups of students to play together.
Our campus does a sing-along the last morning of school before winter break. Club members asked if they could try to make that more inclusive by allowing all students to sit together. Club members wanted to leave their classes and sit with the group. But they also wanted to have jingle bells, egg shakers, and other things for the students to use so they could participate even if they didn’t want to, or couldn’t, sing along. All of the students were engaged in the music and participating at their level.
In February, Creekview holds its annual Rodeo Run. UNITY Club members signed up for other grade levels to come out and run with the students who needed support. It was spectacular to watch all of the students running together! Once again, we had the opportunity to be near our students with special needs but not ‘glued to their sides.’ This story represents the ‘why’ we coordinate and support UNITY Club at Creekview Elementary school. I had two student members in my classroom to ask a question. I realized one of my students had an accident on the back floor. I simply told the students not to walk in it, it was clear so it wasn’t obvious what it was. One of the students said; “Oh, you’re potty training, do you want me to get some paper towel and clean that up for you?” I don’t know a lot of fifth graders who would willingly clean another child’s urine off the floor, but he never thought twice about his offer.
Our school Field Day is held over two days, one day K-2 and one day 3-5. The first day, club members signed up to work with students as they were integrated into their grade level inclusion classes. This was the first time that our Structured Learning Lab students were not participating in Field Day as their own separate group. As we moved among the 21stations, some were not appropriate for my students. I already had ideas on how to modify the activities to meet the needs of my students. At each station, the UNITY Club members spoke up to the volunteers running the stations to recommend modifications to make the games more fun for our students as well as accessible at their skill level. The students were able to look around at what was available nearby and create a similar game that our students could participate in and enjoy.
In May we have our district Challenge Day. UNITY Club members attended the event with us. They were there to support our students and encourage them as they participated in events. All of the students loved it, and our students with special needs participated better with a friend to work with.
I had two students come to me to say they were going to miss UNITY Club next year when they transition to junior high school. It sparked an idea that I’m following up on. I have contacted the principal at our junior high school about beginning a program there. We have a seedling group of students who would love to take on the challenge. I am in contact with the special education teacher at that campus and I will be supporting the growth of Unified Champion Schools at Creekside Park Junior High School in 2019/20.
Overall, the change at Creekview Elementary has been dramatic. When we are walking through the hallways, other students call my students by name! The power of being acknowledged has improved behavior in our program. Students are much more accepting of some of the things my students do. The attitude of acceptance is also taking root in general education classrooms. Teachers have commented on how much their students are working to support each other and this has changed the dynamics of their classroom instruction as well. Our PE coach said the students work as a team better and attempt to make sure everyone is included and gets a turn when they are doing activities and games. I’m excited that we have come this far in just one year.
- KimberLeigh Nagel, Creekview Elementary Special Education Teacher and Club UNITY sponsor