Dubai: Dubai-based GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis has been recognised by Special Olympics UAE as the first ‘Unified Champion School’ in the UAE, GEMS Education said on Tuesday.
The ‘Unified Champion Schools Programme’ was launched by Special Olympics UAE in 2019, and was designed to make sports and youth leadership in public and private schools across the UAE more inclusive for all students. The programme aims to integrate students with intellectual and learning difficulties with their peers and other students in an inclusive school environment.
What is a ‘Unified School’?
More than 280 schools in the UAE have signed up for the programme since launch, and schools can become a ‘Unified School’ if at least one unified sport is offered in one semester. Schools that progress to becoming a Unified Champion School demonstrate inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement, and equip students and teachers with tools and resources to create a climate of inclusion in classrooms and sports pitches.
Sarah O’Regan, Principal and CEO GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis, said: “GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis is delighted to be recognised as the first school in the UAE to achieve ‘Unified Champion School’ status. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, we take great pride in being an inclusive school and ensuring that all students create their own story.”
The school’s inclusion team works closely with the Physical Education department. The school began its Unified Champion School journey by creating inclusive basketball clubs where students of determination and school athletes played side-by-side as unified partners. Supportive sports teams were formed and the school organised a multi-sport tournament where students on the sports leadership programme worked with students of determination. The school has also pledged to host the annual Unified Cup sports tournament every year.
Matthew Thomas, Head of Physical Education at GEMS Wellington Academy –Silicon Oasis, who leads the school’s inclusive sports programme, said: “The Unified sports programme at WSO has changed the mind-set of students and made the whole school community even more compassionate. I see students getting involved in sports now who would never have if they were not part of this project. I am immensely proud of the school’s adoption of the programme and excited to see it grow as a truly inclusive community for all children.”
Khawla Barley, Head of Initiatives at Special Olympics UAE, said: “The Unified Champion Schools programme is designed to create meaningful change across schools and communities. From the moment GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis was on board with the programme, we have seen full commitment to it affecting school-wide change to truly impact the lives of pupils and their school careers. The programme is designed to develop climates of acceptance through three main pillars: Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership and Whole School Engagement. WSO successfully achieved this, in particular with their Unified Sports programming, and we are confident that together we can share the values of this program to schools across the country.”