By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer and members of the School Committee met with the Shrewsbury High School (SHS) Unified Sports program at their Sept. 18 meeting. SHS was recently recognized by Special Olympics Massachusetts, who announced on Aug. 22 that SHS is to be honored with a National Banner Recognition for its efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities for students of all abilities.
SHS is one of only 16 schools in Massachusetts and 179 schools nationwide to achieve this recognition for the 2018-19 school year. As such, SHS met the standards, which included fostering the development of Inclusive Sports, Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement.
Coaches and students in attendance at the meeting were Mario Gonzales, Tim Fitzpatrick, Meghan Wallace and Colleen Hall, Unified Track & Field coaches; Natalie Davis and Jess Rigberg, Unified Basketball Coaches; Njeri Mayanja, Cole Ackerman, Theodora Chacharone, John West, Justin Wentzel, Kevin O’Connor, Chris Liu and Kevin Orifice, students of the Class of 2019.
“When we say it takes a full team there is a full team of people behind this program,” stated Meg Belsito, assistant superintendent for student services. “It’s wonderful to celebrate how you accept, respect and empower and include all students whether it’s in the classroom or out of the classroom, on the field or off the field…we look forward to growing this model across the district.”
“Our number one goal is to promote inclusion by including students with or without intellectual disabilities,” added Theodora Chacharone who spoke for the SHS Unified Club Leadership Committee. “We do this by meeting three standards: youth leadership, whole school involvement and an inclusive sports program.”
West’s favorite part of the experience was getting to know and work with kids he ordinarily might not come in contact with and said that his friendship with Wentzel goes beyond the club.
Wentzel’s mother, Michelle spoke with emotion as she addressed the committee.
“My son has been a part of the Unified Sports Program, between basketball and track, for the past couple of years…For us it’s never really been about the sports, but about being included and being a part of the school community…The friendships that Justin has formed is greater than anything we could have ever imagined,” she said.
Sandy Fryc, committee chair, and Sawyer also were quite emotional in their remarks.
“It’s so, so important for students, I think, at every level to think we are all the same and we have the same abilities, so thank you so much,” Fryc noted.
“The quality of the leadership that we see from the students is extraordinary and to see all the students, both students who are with and without disabilities taking leadership roles and participating…I’m extraordinarily proud – so thank you!” Sawyer added.
A banner will be presented to the school to be displayed at a later date and the school will be included on a list of other schools around the country who have also achieved this status.