The smile on Jacki Duncan’s face couldn’t be hidden as she talked about her school’s participation in Special Olympics.
The fourth-year Skyview Elementary School special education teacher also was proud to announce that the school recently had been selected as the first elementary school in Oklahoma named a National Unified Champion School.
Duncan said Skyview Buddies is a unified sports club that is involved in Special Olympics Oklahoma.
It brings together athletes who have disabilities with students who do not to participate in various sports activities.
“Our unified club not only involves the sporting activities, but also teaches them about teamwork, friendship, accepting differences, learning to help others and pushing the message of inclusion,” Duncan said.
She said the idea is to teach children at an early age that just because someone appears different is not a reason to exclude them.
“Just because somebody may look a little different or sound different, it doesn’t mean they should be afraid of them or that there is anything wrong with them. They should be included just like everyone else,” Duncan said.
And that philosophy appears to be working at Skyview.
“The earlier you get that message out there, and get them thinking that way, the fewer issue you are going to have with bullying. That’s what we are trying to do … get that message out there,” she said.
To participate in Unified programs, students must be at least 8 years old. That is at the top age range for Skyview, which has students in pre-k through third grade.
“It has become a right of passage for third-grade students,” she said.
This year, five students from each third-grade class have the opportunity to be Skyview Buddies. They work mainly with students in lower grades.
Duncan said there is only one student with disabilities who is eight and participating in Special Olympics. That is Ashlyn Denson, who Duncan described as very competitive.
Yukon High School was previously honored with the national recognition.
The program didn’t begin recognizing elementary schools until this year. Skyview is one of five schools in the state to be recognized, and the only elementary school.
“The kids are very excited. It was a very exciting moment for them,” Duncan said.
Skyview Buddies was one of three Oklahoma programs that were encouraged to apply for the designation. Skyview and Jay High School were accepted.
“We are trying send that message that everyone has value, everyone is important,” she said.
Principal Carla Smith said the designation is s validation for what the students are doing.
“I think it speaks highly of our district administration and our special education program that they support and give the teachers the support they need to run the program, and it shows,” Smith said.
Smith said that while the school administration has known about the designation for several weeks, the students learned about it this week during an assembly that included the Yukon High School cheerleaders along with the school’s drum line.
Smith said it was important for the buddies to understand they were the reason for the celebration.
“This above and beyond a regular Wednesday shout-out,” Smith said.