Sendoff 3

Thomson High School program bridges gaps between special and general education students

Kristopher Wells, McDuffie County Schools. Featured photo is of students cheering and sending off Special Olympians to the recent winter games.

THOMSON – Thomson High School is working to bridge the gap between special needs and general
education students through a program called Unified Champion Schools. Teachers identify, screen and train students from the general population to partner with Special Olympics
athletes in a variety of competitions, as well as during regular school activities.

“They’re able to learn about their differences, celebrate their differences, learn about
their supports. And they’re truly building those authentic relationships,” said Unified
Champion Schools Coordinator Corie Johnson.


The inclusivity fostered by the program is having a positive impact on the entire school in some pretty surprising ways.

“They have special handshakes with the Special Olympic athletes. They’re very involved in these kids’ lives throughout the school day,” said Rick DuBose, agriculture teacher and
Special Olympics coach. “It’s neat to see everybody come together and really be unified as a whole school, not just a couple of kids here and there.”

“They’re still human beings. They still have feelings,” said Jemimah Damni, a unified partner. “We just need to learn how to come together and accept that and learn how to help them so they don’t feel like they have been isolated.”

Students have experienced that inclusivity through several activities this school year.
The one-act play competition in the fall saw the drama program cast special needs students
alongside general education students in It’s Our School, Too, a play about including special
needs students in regular school activities. The experience was an eye-opener for many,
including the new stars of the show.

A scene from “It’s Our School, Too.” Photo courtesy Kristopher Wells.

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“It’s really fun for me. I like it so much,” said Special Olympic athlete Demetris Hester. “I
like my friends. I like how the energy’s going. They’re really cool, and nice, and funny. And I love
them so much, too.”

The school also built on its already-successful Special Olympics program. Unified teams
competed for the first time in the bowling competition at the Georgia Special Olympics Indoor
Winter Games on Jan. 28 in Atlanta. As teams departed the school on the morning before the
competition, students lined the halls with signs, banners and music to cheer on the

The encouragement must have worked, too. Thomson teams swept the medals in
Unified bowling. Team Dog Strike, consisting of SaTarius Evans, Markayla Boyd, Corbin
Blackwelder, and Ephraim Wells, brought home the gold medal. Team Bulldog Bowlers, made
up of Tayqwon Sloan-Grant, Grant Mueller and Emma Kate Alfriend, earned the silver medal.
And Team Go Dogs, with Xavier Reid, Demetris Hester, Tobby Partridge and Callie Corbitt, took

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Two students also placed in the singles competition. Rashad Health earned an individual
bronze medal, and Katie Kavanagh placed 4th.

The community has embraced the inclusivity as well. When the athletes returned home,
the Thomson Police Department provided an escort for the bus from the edge of town into the
school parking lot. The same blue lights and sirens that led the state championship football
team home let everyone know there are additional champions in town.

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