ARHS receives National Banner Award to commend Unified Sports, inclusive culture

Post-graduate+Megan+Chute+shoots+the+ball+during+the+Unified+Baskeball+game+against+Marlboro+on+Oct.+27%2C+2022.+Her+teammate%2C+sophomore+Liam+Fitzgerald%2C+points+to+the+hoop.

Betsy Bertonazzi

Post-graduate Megan Chute shoots the ball during the Unified Baskeball game against Marlboro on Oct. 27, 2022. Her teammate, sophomore Liam Fitzgerald, points to the hoop.

Ellie O’Connor, News Editor

This year, Special Olympics awarded Algonquin with the National Banner Award, recognizing the school’s high standards for inclusion and equity and continuing its status as a Unified Champion school.

To receive the award, schools must meet 10 national standards, developed by Special Olympics, that reflect inclusive leadership. Once a school receives the National Banner Award, it is given the status of a Unified Champion School. ARHS is one of only 12 schools in Massachusetts and 164 in the country who were selected for the award, which was announced to students at the pep rally on Nov. 23. Although the award was first received in 2019, schools were invited to reapply last September, according to Best Buddies Adviser Kevin Hausmann. 

“[The award is] a recognition that the place where you’re being educated sees people for their abilities and wants to include them in all aspects of life,” Hausmann said. “I think it’s great that we’re renewing our commitment and renewing our recognition.”

The ARHS Best Buddies chapter adviser and Special Education teacher Caitlin Hynes believes that the award is a reflection of the efforts put in by all students and staff who help create an inclusive environment at ARHS.

“I think everyone is happy that Algonquin is being recognized,” Hynes said. “We’re really lucky to have so many opportunities that I think the award is secondary to everyone just being happy about what’s available. But when you’re recognized for all your efforts, it does help you feel a little more motivated to keep going.”

One of the ten national standards states the requirement for inclusive extracurriculars for all students. Various Unified sports, the Unified Singing club and Best Buddies are among some that are offered. The first ARHS Unified track team was started by students and began in 2012. Hausmann emphasizes the importance of student-driven leadership and believes it is one of the major factors that contributed to ARHS receiving the award this year. 

I think everyone is happy that Algonquin is being recognized…when you’re recognized for all your efforts, it does help you feel a little more motivated to keep going,”

— Best Buddies adviser Caitlin Hynes

“[Unified Sports started] because of the students 10 years ago, and the students who are still leading it really deserve the recognition for being inclusive and wanting to see opportunities for their peers with intellectual disabilities,” Hausmann said.

To reapply for the National Banner Award last fall, ARHS was required to send an application that demonstrated the ten national standards. 

“It was really a couple of days of sitting down to just tell the stories or the anecdotes of all the good things that our school does,” Hausmann said. “So it wasn’t like we had to go and compete for [the award], we just had to submit a portfolio.”

The COVID pandemic posed challenges for all students, especially for those with disabilities, according to Hausmann. Despite the remote and hybrid learning models from the 2020-2021 school year, massive efforts were made by students and faculty to continue unification and inclusion, which was important to recognize when reapplying for the National Banner Award.

“The past couple years were arguably two of the most challenging years we’ve all faced as a society and as a school, but yet, we kept our high standards,” Hausmann said. “We kept our highest standards of wanting to make sure that people are socially engaged and involved in sports and in all aspects of high school life, despite the fact that we were all remote for months. We were able to make Best Buddies work, and we made Unified Track work.”

Hynes encourages students to continue to join Unified extracurriculars and create an impact.

“We have a lot of students outside of some of the special-ed or Unified programs that may not totally be aware of what’s available,” Hynes said. “There’s a variety of opportunities available to students that meet their social needs and their interests, and we’re always looking for more people to be involved, so don’t be afraid to find out.”