Johnston scores Unified School haul

Special Olympics certifies four town schools National Banner Unified Champions

Posted 10/27/23

Of the eight Rhode Island schools admitted to the “Class of 2023 National Banner Unified Champion Schools” list, four hail from Johnston.

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Johnston scores Unified School haul

Special Olympics certifies four town schools National Banner Unified Champions


Of the eight Rhode Island schools admitted to the “Class of 2023 National Banner Unified Champion Schools” list, four hail from Johnston.

Late last month, those four Johnston schools proved they live up to the district motto — Panthers Choose to Include. The announcement slowly made its way through the school system in late September: Brown Avenue Elementary, Sarah Dyer Barnes Elementary, Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School and Johnston Senior High School have all earned “National Banner Unified Champion Schools” certification.

Johnston now becomes the first and only district in the Ocean State with four schools, one from each age level, officially recognized for inclusion by the Special Olympics.

“We want all our students to feel safe and included in all aspects of their lives,” said Edda Carmadello who previously served the Johnston Public Schools Director of Special Services, and after a promotion last month, has been named the district’s Assistant Superintendent. “The Unified Schools Champion recognition is a testament to the activities provided in and out of school. Many of our students are empowered to create and lead this initiative alongside educators.”

Carmadello broke the news in a school-wide announcement:

“We’re proud to announce that four schools in Johnston have been officially recognized as ‘National Banner Unified Champion Schools’ for their commitment to inclusion! Each school has met 10 standards of excellence as determined by Special Olympics North America, focusing on Unified Sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole-school engagement.”

State-by-state, the Special Olympics announced the nation’s schools that made the “Class of 2023 National Banner Unified Champion Schools” list. Only eight Rhode Island schools made the list. Half were in Johnston (these four schools rounded out the rest of the list — Burrillville High School, Dunn's Corners Elementary School in Westerly, Hopkins Hill Elementary School in Coventry, and Pleasant View Elementary School in Smithfield).

A Special Olympics Unified Champion School demonstrates “commitment to inclusion” by meeting the standards of excellence set by the organization. The schools must show that it “has 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,” according to Special Olympics. “These standards were developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.”

The “primary activities within these standards” include “Special Olympics Unified Sports (where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates), Inclusive Youth Leadership and Whole-School Engagement.”

The achievement required lots of hard work by students, staff and parents, before and after school hours, as well as during the school day.

To become a “Banner Unified Champion School,” the school must also “be able to demonstrate they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities into the future.”

“The expectation of this recognition is that the 10 standards are continuously being met, year after year,” according to Special Olympics. “To ensure this sustainability, schools reapply for banner status every four years.”

“We are so proud of our students, and the inclusive practices demonstrated in all school communities,” Carmadello explained. “Our students, families, faculty, and staff care about each other and provide opportunities to foster friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Schools that didn’t make the list can reapply in Spring 2024.

After an intensive “application review process” each school application is reviewed on the state level first, and then “by a national Certifying Body of key educational leaders.”

“The District Special Olympics Leadership Team met monthly last year and decided to apply for this recognition together,” Carmadello said. “The school teams supported each other, shared ideas, and coordinated efforts throughout the district to promote inclusion.”

The district expressed gratitude to all those who helped achieve the certification: “Special thank you to students, families, and partners who participate in these school-wide programs and activities, administrators, faculty, and staff members who support these initiatives, and the district Special Olympics leadership team who coordinated school and district-wide events to celebrate inclusion and belonging in Johnston.”

Next Spring, Johnston Schools plan to host a special celebration.

“The district will be recognized in March as one of the first districts in Rhode Island to receive recognition on all levels (elementary, middle, and high school) at the same time,” Carmadello said. “The community will be invited to a special event at Johnston Senior High School in March to celebrate all of these schools.”

Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. offered high praise for his staff, students and families.

“I am proud of the four schools in  Johnston that have been officially recognized as National Banner Unified School Champions,” he said. “These schools have provided programming and activities that promote inclusion for all. This was not an easy task as each school had to meet challenging standards and come together as a community to support Unified Sports and inclusive leadership. I thank the many administrators, faculty and staff members, students and their families and volunteers for working toward the goal of developing an inclusive community. All four schools have continued to celebrate inclusion and enforce the ideals of belonging in our schools. I congratulate Brown Avenue, Barnes Ferri Middle and Johnston High School for this very important work and for being recognized as inclusive schools.”


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