The inclusion campaign has seen a strong response among students and teachers across the UAE. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Over 400 public and private schools across the UAE have committed to making their school communities more inclusive this year by registering for ‘Unified Champion Schools’, the Special Olympics UAE’s flagship programme.

Unified Champion Schools kicks off its term two calendar to promote social inclusion in three key areas: Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement. Unified Robotics 2022 season, the largest robotics competition for neurodiverse students in the region, opened registration this month. Other Unified Sports programs rolled out to schools include Unified Football and Unified Badminton.

Unified Champion Schools programme offers a hybrid model of virtual and in-person events, resources, and activities. The programme also offers teachers training and development resources to run Unified Sports activities in their schools, in a bid to become more inclusive.

Robots showdown

Unified Robotics 2022 season launches on February 6 with each school entering one unified team, either in the primary and secondary age group. The competition season provides tools and experiences such as coding robot simulations and completing challenges in a competition. Half of unified school team members are neurodiverse students, who compete alongside their unified partners (students without intellectual and developmental disabilities) and work together to learn the fundamentals of coding. The Unified Robotics 2022 national finals will take place in May. Schools can register by January 22.

New campaign and sports

This school term, Unified Champion Schools also launches the ‘Spread the Word: Inclusion’ campaign, encouraging schools to join the global inclusion movement and engage the whole-school community through various activities. The campaign, which is celebrated by a global network of schools and Special Olympics organisations worldwide, empowers student leaders to become “champions of change” to further social inclusion in their classrooms and communities.

This month will also see the launch of Unified Football and Unified Badminton, which offers resources and free teacher training for public and private schools nationwide on how to run Unified Sports sessions.

Inclusive Youth Leadership is one of three main components that form the Unified Champion Schools programme. Inclusive leadership training will be provided in February for teachers to learn how to create inclusive and unified environments in their schools.

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‘Improving lives’

Talal Al Hashemi, National Director, Special Olympics UAE, said: “The widespread acceptance of the programme from schools mirrors the UAE’s leadership’s commitment to improving the lives of people of determination. We thank all the schools and education groups, from management to teachers and support staff, for joining us in this commitment to make schools inclusive of students of all abilities.”

Samia Zaigham, Head of Design Technology, Al Yasat School, who is a recipient of the Unified Robotics Innovate for Inclusion award, said: “We are excited to start our journey as a Unified Champion School. We are proud of our unified sports and have established a Unified Robotics club. We are passionate to see how we can build leadership in our students with the support of this program and with the vision of Special Olympics.”

Hannah Dean, Early Years and Elementary PE Teacher at The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys, said: “The greatest impact we have seen from Unified Champion Schools and unified events has been an awareness of unified activities and how to adapt and change activities so that everybody can be included.”

Schools are encouraged to register for the Unified Champion Schools at any point year-round to access the resources and inclusive programming offered by Special Olympics UAE.

Registration is open via the Special Olympics UAE website. Schools will be recognised and awarded as Unified Champion Schools at the end of the year.