Special Olympics UAE’s Unified Champion Schools Program Announces Impactful Results for the 2021 – 2022 Academic Year

Special Olympics UAE’s Unified Champion Schools Program Announces Impactful Results for the 2021 – 2022 Academic Year

  • 255 schools achieved Unified School status for the academic year 2021-2022 across the UAE
  • Over 20,000 students, including Athletes and Unified Partners, benefit from the Unified Schools programs

Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates, December 5th, 2022: Special Olympics UAE announced that 255 schools nationwide have achieved the Unified School status for the academic year 2021-2022. The Unified Champion Schools Program fosters inclusive school environments for students through Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership and Whole School Engagement, which are the three main components of the program.

Her Excellency Shamma bint Suhail Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Special Olympics UAE, said: “Progressive schools enhance all students’ experiences by building an empowering community. They are places that put students at the center of everything they do, embrace a culture of inclusion, respect and acceptance, and achieve a balance between community and individuality.”

Her Excellency added: “Special Olympics UAE is delighted to work with many of these schools in the UAE; ones that have earned the titles of Unified Schools and Unified Champion Schools and others that are working towards achieving these titles this year. Their commitment helps us in realizing the program’s goals that focus on creating an inclusive community. We are very proud of the exceptional efforts of these schools and teachers who have worked hard to learn more about their students with intellectual and developmental disabilities through numerous bespoke professional development sessions offered by Special Olympics UAE, with specialist trainers in response to teacher feedback and evaluation of school challenges, to ensure that they understand how to support them, whether on an educational or a social level within school activities.”

“To all Unified Champion Schools 2021-2022, your role doesn’t end here, as inclusion is not just a program, it’s a way of existing and we all play a role in the sustainability of this impact.” Her Excellency concluded.

Unified Champion Schools

Unified Champion Schools is the Special Olympics UAE’s flagship program that promotes inclusion in schools’ communities. The program runs in over 400 public and private schools across the UAE and the new season was launched this academic year with various in-person and online programs and events. From inclusive sports events to leadership programs and teachers training, the program seeks to empower students of determination and give them the opportunity to have important and significant roles in their communities.

UCS continues to expand opportunities for schools to engage students both within school campuses and in the community. Adding to the successful Unified Robotics competition season, the academic year 2022-2023 will see the launch of the first nationwide Unified Sports league. In its inaugural year, the Unified League will focus on football and badminton.

Registration in the Unified Robotics and Unified Sports league Programs for the academic year 2022-2023 was record-breaking, with more than 250 teams registered in the Unified Robotics competition, which will have its qualifying rounds in February 2023. The Unified Sports League’s registration topped 360 Football and Badminton teams across public and private schools, and the qualifying rounds will be taking place during the second school term. Both National Finals will be taking place during the third school term.

Statistics about the Unified Champion Schools Program’s Impact

In a survey, conducted by KPMG to measure the impact of UCS that included 204 participating schools; 80% of surveyed parents reported that their children participate in more activities in their community, have better health (83%), improved sports skills (83%), join another sports team outside of Unified Sports (80%), do more exercises every week (83%).

For most UCS participants with intellectual or developmental disability (ID/DD), UCS facilitated positive identity development by building confidence, agency, and understanding of their disability, and providing a platform for participants with ID/DD to advocate for themselves.

Further facilitating positive identity development, participants with ID/DD also noted that UCS creates a setting for students to feel seen, accepted, and included (83%). In fact, all participants with ID/DD noted personal growth as a result of their participation in UCS (71.4%). Participants without ID/DD did comment on similar positive identity impacts (45.7%) from UCS. Special Olympics UAE estimates that 20,000 students, including Athletes and Unified Partners, are impacted by UCS programs.

Waleed Al-Helou, the Unified Champion Schools Program coordinator at Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib School said: “The Unified Champions Schools program has impacted our school community in many ways, as it strengthened the relationship between Athletes, their peers, and unified partners, which accelerated their integration in general throughout the school society. It also supported in spreading awareness among the school’s leadership and teachers which was instrumental to our success in implementing the program and being awarded the title of a Unified School by the UAE Special Olympics”.

Sahar Abu Al-Amaym, a physical education teacher at Hamdan Bin Zayed School, which achieved the title of Unified Champions School, said: “UCS helped our students learn new academic and social skills. It continuously enhances self-confidence and reinforces the notion that everyone is included. When society and families are aware of People of Determinations’ abilities, we pave the way for discovery and development of untapped potential, which ultimately translates to valuable and diverse contributions to our school community and society at large. “

Teachers Professional Development

Teachers across the UAE have been provided with multiple professional development opportunities through partnerships with Youth Sport Trust, PASS Abu Dhabi and World Badminton Federation. Special training programs were also covered for Early Education teachers on the Young Athletes program (SOI Trainers), as well as General Education teachers through specialist inclusion training. The Unified Education program was developed in partnership with the Applied Behavioral Training Institute (ABTI). Further technical training will be offered throughout the academic year as part of Special Olympics UAEs commitment to supporting inclusion efforts within UAE schools.

For More information on Unified Champion Schools, please visit www.specialolympics.ae

-Ends-

About Unified Champion Schools:

Unified Champion Schools equips young people, teachers, trainers with tools and resources to create climates of acceptance in sports, classrooms, and throughout the entire school community. It aims to improve the experiences of People of Determination with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in schools, and to encourage engagement between youth and empower them with inclusive opportunities that are aligned with schools’ timelines and curricula. In addition to supporting the education and opportunities provided to People of Determination and students in mainstream education, Unified Champion Schools will increase the capacity of teaching staff and educators to create socially inclusive school communities and activities through professional development training.

The comprehensive program offers a three-component approach offering schools multiple opportunities for inclusion through unified sports, inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement activities that run throughout the school year. The national rollout encourages all public and private schools of all curricula to register for the Unified Champion Schools program. Schools can become a Unified School if at least one unified sport is offered in one semester. Schools can progress to becoming a Unified Champion School if inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement requirements are fulfilled.

To learn how your school can participate in Unified Champion Schools, please email ucs@specialolympics.ae.

About Special Olympics UAE:

In October 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced Special Olympics UAE as an independent organization dedicated to changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Her Highness Sheikha Maryam Bint Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was appointed as the Honorary President, and Her Excellency Shamma Bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui as Chairperson of the Board of Trustees.

The organization aims to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through sports while providing them with leadership opportunities to help them display their talents and integrate them with the mainstream society.

Special Olympics UAE has launched a variety of community programs, including those focused on families and young athletes. It has also introduced a number of initiatives to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to create a more inclusive society.

The Special Olympics of the UAE received international recognition from the International Special Olympics Foundation-USA in December 2017. 

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