Chicago Public Schools make strides in their inclusion efforts.


Jordan Dullnigg

Mj Palmquist and Jordan Dullnigg present to Chicago Public School teacher and administrators on Inclusive Youth Leadership.

 Eunice Kennedy Shriver is a staple icon within Special Olympics. She started Camp Shriver which was a camp for young people with intellectual disabilities that started in Shriver’s backyard in 1962. Shriver created Camp Shriver because her sister, Rosemary had an intellectual disability. Shriver wanted more opportunities for her sister and people alike. Soon it would become much more, in 1968 there were the first-ever international summer games held at Soldier Field. The idea of Special Olympics has now grown and changed immensely over the last 52 years. 

Special Olympics created Unified Champion Schools with three components. First, inclusive youth leadership, which provides opportunities for youth with and without disabilities to be an agent of change in their school and community. Second, whole-school engagement creates an inclusive school environment. Finally, unified sports allow students with and without disabilities being able to participate in an IHSA sport together. 

Metea has been recognized as a National Champion Banner School, meaning those all three components are presented very well within our school. However, Chicago Public Schools did not have any Unified Champion Schools until recently and are continuing to grow their programs. 

“I started at the end of August and there was zero [unified champion schools] we now have twenty schools and there are six hundred schools in the Chicago Public School System,” Director of Outreach for Region D Mellissa Garritano said. “Eventually I want all the schools [to be unified champion schools] but going into this job I wanted quality over quantity,”  

Garritano has been working to make these schools more inclusive since she was a teacher at Southside Occupational Academy, where she was lucky enough to have resources that some schools did not have. Since joining the Special Olympics team she has kept in touch with her former colleagues and principal that have helped her spread awareness to surrounding schools she does not know as well. 

Garritano wants to spread this awareness by creating more unified and traditional sports such as basketball, track and field, and soccer. She also wants these students to have opportunities they normally would not in the classroom. Many of these students take the CTA to get to school and some of the older students may have jobs such as working at the local library or grocery store. The opportunities these students could be getting through school could grow that much more.  

 “I don’t know what I would do without it. I love my basketball teammates, my coach, and my teachers,” Special Olympics athlete Junior Johnny Smith said. “Special Olympics has benefitted me by learning how to get along with other people such as my friends and teachers.” 

Courses at Metea consist of Adapted Physical Education, which these students do modified activities such as floor hockey with a softer ball, swimming but using a float belt or walking in the smaller pool. Adapted Home Maintenance is culinary, the students in this class learn basic recipes and basic cooking skills.

 Another special opportunity some students get is being able to go out into the community during the school day to gain hands-on and real work experience. Some places these students may go to can be Molly Maids, Taber Hills, Wag n’ Paddle, and Anderson’s Book Store. Their duties at these sites can be putting jellies and creamer on the table to as big as getting to help train a dog. 

Metea becoming a Unified Champion School and then a National Champion Banner school was worked toward for four years. One school achieving it means that many others could achieve that standard as well. 

Chicago Public Schools have been striving for inclusivity ever since the start of the school year when they started working toward Unified Champion Schools. Having the three components of inclusive leadership, unified sports, and whole-school engagement could make the students feel more included than ever, something Eunice Kennedy Shriver strived for all the way back in 1962.