Westbrook Middle School Named 2023 ESPN Honor Roll School
Early in 2023, Westbrook Middle School was recognized by Special Olympics North America as a nationally recognized Unified Champion School. Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting inclusion through participation in athletics experiences. Unified Sports brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together in the spirit of teamwork and social bonding. Their philosophy is that by practicing and competing together, the path to friendship and understanding will be paved.
Under the leadership of Daniel Jennings, Special Education teacher and Unified Sports head coach, and Westbrook Dean of Students Amy Gallagher, Westbrook Middle School (WMS) applied to be a Special Olympics Unified Sports Champion School in 2022. The application process was rigorous, and WMS had to demonstrate that they met the ten rigorous national standards of excellence stipulated by the Special Olympics. In April of 2023, WMS received notification from Special Olympics North America that our school's application to the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools National Recognition Program had been approved. When asked what being a Unified Sports Champion School meant to WMS Dean of Students Amy Gallagher, she stated, “It feels good for the nation to be made aware of what we’ve known for a long time. Our school community is inclusive, connected, and making a difference in the lives of so many students. We are very proud to be recognized as a Champion school and try to live up to that standard every day.”
According to the National School Recognition Program, WMS received national banner recognition and noted that WMS has built “... an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement and respect for all members of the student body and staff. A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence. These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.” Upon recognition, Director of Special Services, Fran Lagace emailed Coach Jennings and said, “Great work! The benefits for the kids goes way beyond the banner. It has really improved the culture and climate for students and staff.”
In mid-October, WMS was once again recognized as a leader in Unified Sports by ESPN. Westbrook was named a 2023 ESPN Honor Roll School. WMS was one of ten schools in the Northeast region and the only school in Connecticut to be awarded this prestigious honor. In a recent announcement by ESPN, Westbrook’s Unified program along with the other Honor Roll Schools were thanked for building more inclusive schools and a more inclusive world. Mr. Jennings has been leading the charge with regard to inclusion and belonging at Westbrook Middle School for years. When he learned that his program had been named a 2023 ESPN Honor Roll School, he said, “This is an incredible honor! I am very proud of our Unified Sports program, and how it continues to positively shape our inclusive school community. Unified Sports plays a major role in contributing to everyone’s sense of belonging in Westbrook Middle School. Way to go Unified Knights!!”
Westbrook Middle School Principal Matt Talmadge commented, “So many stakeholders have come together to make this a reality. Coach Jennings and athletic director Gallagher leveraged the support from both the Connecticut Association of Schools and our director of special services as they worked with our students and families to bring the true spirit of inclusion to life through Unified Sports. They made a difference in our community, and that is what it is all about.”
Dr. Kristina Martineau, Superintendent of Westbrook Public Schools added, “Unified Sports fosters social inclusion and youth leadership. That powerful combination is highly valued for all of our students. Our growing Unified Sports program continues to make a tremendous impact increasing positivity and belonging in both the Westbrook Public Schools and the Westbrook community at large. We are proud of our teacher leaders for making this happen for our community and so proud of all of our students involved in this important program.”
Mr. Robert Hale, the Director of Unified Sports at Special Olympics Connecticut, leads the team that organizes the school-based Unified Sports program for Connecticut. This program is sponsored cooperatively by Special Olympics Connecticut and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association. Mr. Hale personally came to Westbrook Middle School on October 27, 2023 to present a banner to Westbrook Middle School during their annual fall pep rally. The banner and presentation by Mr. Hale allowed the entire school community to celebrate being named a Unified Champion School as well as a 2023 ESPN Honor Roll School.