Unified Sports Are Helping To Create a Positive School Culture That Promotes Inclusion 

Centennial Elementary Unified Football participants pose for a picture

Elementary school is a time for learning, growth, building friendships, and having fun. Staff and students at Centennial Elementary are working together to create an inclusive environment for all students through their Unified Sports Program and other school activities. 

Amanda Krell, SSN teacher, and Jillian Vickland, paraprofessional, have been instrumental in developing the Unified Sports Program at Centennial Elementary. Vickland started the program at another elementary school in the district and it was so successful that she knew she wanted to bring Unified to Centennial. “I love being able to include my SSN students in sports and integrate general education students. I love seeing the smiles on my students’ faces as they make new friends and take part in something they may not have been able to be a part of before,” Vickland said. 

There are many benefits to having an inclusive learning environment, not only for students with special needs, but for ALL students. When all students are included in sports and other activities, they are able to learn from each other and accept each other’s differences. Unified Sports provide students with special needs an equal opportunity to participate in the same types of programs and activities as those without special needs. 

As a paraprofessional, Vickland is working with students first hand and sees how Unified Sports can positively impact the school community. “Unified Sports helps the school culture by promoting inclusion, compassion, empathy, and understanding. Unified Sports opens hearts and minds and helps students realize that differences are not as important as how we are all alike. The need to be accepted and included is the same for all kids,” Vickland said. 

Last year, Krell and Vickland started the Unified Program with one season of basketball and it was such a success that they decided to break up the program into three seasons for this year. They just wrapped up the fall season with Unified football and they’ll offer Unified basketball in the winter, and Unified soccer in the spring. 

For this inaugural Unified football season, they had roughly 23 participants, 13 athletes and 10 partners. They had four practices and one game where the whole school was able to come and watch.“My favorite moment from the whole season was at the end of our football game where the whole school joined our partners and athletes in our end of game/practice cheer. The entirety of Centennial cheered ‘1, 2, 3, GO HUSKIES!’ It gave me goosebumps and I cried a little after. It was so nice to see everyone get as excited as they did at watching kiddos of varying disability levels play football,” Krell shared. 

There is a lot that goes into making a Unified Sports Program successful and it takes the support of the school, families, and community. Krell credits the success of the program to the involvement and support of Centennial’s PTO President and Unified Coach, Brooke Sessions. Krell said, “Brooke and her husband were the coaches and referees during the whole football season and we would not have been able to accomplish what we did last year and this year without them. Brooke is so kind and patient with all of our kiddos and has high expectations for their abilities to play during each Unified season.” 

Even though it’s only the second year for the Unified Sports Program at Centennial, it has already helped the school culture significantly and it has inspired other positive methods of inclusion. “Our SSN students and some of our resource students who have participated in Unified have been welcomed and included with open arms from all the students in our building. Because of the Unified Program, we have added an “inclusion” category to our PAWSitive office referral system, as well as adding an “inclusion” category for our monthly awards. Our school administration talked about inclusion during our September assemblies with the whole building. Unified has been vital in integrating inclusion into Centennial and thus the community,” Krell said. 

Moving forward, Krell is excited to see how she can continue to integrate the SSN program throughout the school and hopes to make next year’s Unified Program even bigger and better. 

St. Vrain Valley Schools