ARHS’ unified program receives national recognition


ARHS’ unified program receives national recognition
Students paraded in during halftime, carrying a banner identifying Algonquin as a National Unified Champion School. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

NORTHBOROUGH – It was halftime at the Algonquin Regional High School and Shrewsbury High School boys basketball game when a parade of students entered the court, carrying a banner.

The banner recognized ARHS as a National Unified Champion School. The high school is one of 12 in Massachusetts and 164 in the country to receive this award given by Special Olympics.

“Titan nation is full of students, staff and families who understand the importance of inclusion and help it grow throughout our towns. They know that no one is left out, ever,” said Sofia Roumiantsev.

Roumiantsev is a team captain of both the unified basketball and track teams as well as an officer in Best Buddies and the unified basketball representative on the Algonquin Athletic Council.

“Special Olympics has noticed that Algonquin is a school where students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are leaders in and out of the classroom,” said Lindsey Brown, who is a member of the unified track team, a Best Buddies officer and member of the Special Olympics Massachusetts Youth Activation Council. “They see the respect our student body has for inclusion through their participation in Unified sports, Best Buddies events and now Unified singing club and arts club.”

History of Algonquin’s Unified program

According to Kevin Hausmann, who is the Unified Sports coordinator and Best Buddies faculty advisor, Special Olympics challenged Algonquin and other schools that are part of the Midland Wachusett League to consider a new model for student athletics.

“Algonquin had many diverse students who wanted to compete on the field and court while representing their school. However, opportunities were limited, and students noticed,” he said.

Algonquin’s initial unified efforts began as part of a co-op with Westborough High School, and student leaders from both high schools took the initiative to ask for inclusive sports.

However, for about five years, the programs have been separate.

The first unified sport was track. According to Hausmann, it took about three to four years for the track and field program to run smoothly with the help of continuity when it came to the coaches. Plus, some of the students participated for several years.

At one point before the pandemic, the team grew to have over 70 students.

Roumiantsev said her fondest track memory was going to the state championship and placing in the 100 meter dash.

“It made me feel proud of what I could accomplish and confident that I could do more,” she said.

Over time, Hausmann said students and families began asking for more activities.

So, the program expanded to basketball, unified singing, colorguard, Inclusive DECA, Unified Art Project and Best Buddies. Over 12 years, it became part of the culture at Algonquin, expanding to other programs like robotics, cheer and theater.

ARHS’ program received this recognition four years ago. According to Principal Sean Bevan, to receive this recognition, the high school needed to demonstrate a commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence developed by Special Olympics leaders.

“I’m so enamored of of our program that it almost wasn’t a surprise because I know how hard it is to have a really vibrant and truly inclusive school environment,” Bevan said. “When I see it here on the daily, it’s not a surprise that we’re being recognized for a real model for that.”

For Roumiantsev, she has learned to encourage her teammates, lead them and advocate for herself and peers.

“Because of Unified clubs and sports, our voices are given a chance to be heard,” she said.