Florence High teams up with Special Olympics to provide more opportunities

Florence Township Memorial High School. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann

The Florence Township School District has recently teamed up with the Special Olympics of New Jersey to expand its special education programming.

At an Aug. 27 Florence Township School District Board of Education meeting, district officials announced that Florence Township Memorial High School has joined the “Unified Sports Program,” which is sponsored by the Special Olympics of New Jersey with an aim to join people with and without disabilities on the same team.

According to the organization’s website, the program is dedicated toward the promotion of “social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences.”

The organization’s website reads that its mission, through the program, is for people with and without disabilities to train and play together as a way to build friendship and understanding.

Florence school district officials said that the intent of the high school’s inclusion in the program is to provide various opportunities for its students to not only get involved with the program, but its partnership with the Special Olympics of New Jersey will help it become an “Unified Champion School (UCS).”

Officials from the Special Olympics of New Jersey said that an UCS program is intended to promote a socially inclusive school climate, “where acceptance, respect and human dignity for all students is [normal].”

Involvement in this program is aimed to give young people of all abilities to be inclusive leaders and athletes and engage their school community in creating an environment where every student feels challenged, supported and connected, according to officials.

District officials explained that in order for the high school to become a UCS, it has to meet a three-prong set of requirements, which include the implementation of a physical education program for the students; a community involvement component; and a unified leadership component.

It is also intends to provide students with the ability to participate in hybrid-programming, a program designed for students to be NJSIAA varsity athletes and to compete in the Special Olympics.

Florence school district officials said that there are students with disabilities who are socially competitive and want a chance to engage in a scholastic athletic event but are not provided the opportunity to compete at a varsity level capacity.

Although the school district has other programs in place to provide opportunities for students with disabilities to engage in the school community, officials said this program is aimed to benefit from engaging with other students outside of a restricted environment in an effort to be “front and foremost with their peers.”

For the physical education program, district officials fielded the idea of creating a unified basketball team for the students to compete and engage in. For the community involvement, officials said they plan to engage a component of inclusivity and unification to on-campus events as pep rallies and student activities.

For the unified leadership component, officials said they plan to have the students partake in communal activities such as youth summits and/or engage in community and fundraising activities.

Upon the announcement of the high school’s partnership with the program, Superintendent of Florence Township Schools Donna Ambrosius announced that this initiative came about after the school district had received money from the Special Olympics of New Jersey for the implementation of the program.

Ambrosius not only expressed her pleasure amongst herself and district staff members to become involved with the program, but said she was also pleased to see the options it provides for students to become more involved with their community.

“This is an opportunity for all of our students to demonstrate leadership, inclusivity and community involvement,” Ambrosius said. “The Florence Township School District received $5,500 from the Special Olympics of New Jersey to assist with the launch of this program. We are excited about the opportunity this program will provide for our school community.”