San Benito High School in Hollister was honored as an ESPN Top-5 Unified Champion School in the country during a banner ceremony on Friday, April 29.
ESPN and Special Olympics annually recognize Unified Champion Schools throughout the country that are dedicated to promoting inclusion on campus through three pillars:
Students with and without disabilities playing sports together on the same teams.
Inclusive Youth Leadership
Students with and without disabilities working together on student councils, clubs and in other leadership roles.
Whole School Engagement
Spreading love, respect and understanding through ability-awareness rallies and assemblies that bring together the entire student body.
“As Balers, we’re very passionate,” said San Benito student Maraya. “Because this is something that we’re all passionate about, I think that’s why we thrive as a community. We all love being a part of inclusivity.”
San Benito has long been an inclusive leader and launched a Circle of Friends Club back in 2010 to bring students in special and general education together for fun activities. The club has continued to grow and expand through the partnership with Special Olympics Northern California (SONC). Inclusive events now include prom, homecoming, Unified Sports like basketball, and more.
“From the beginning of their relationship with us, San Benito has totally bought in,” said Cameron Bradford, Schools Partnership Program Manager for SONC. “They’ve been a model of what it means to be inclusive.”
Students and staff at San Benito were surprised with the Top-5 announcement late last year by ESPN’s Jordan and Shae Cornette via Zoom. Then on April 29, the entire student body of 3,400 students came together for the official banner presentation at the school. The event was emceed by ABC 7 Bay Area Reporter Zach Fuentes and featured the banner reveal; awards and student performances; recognitions from the offices of Senator Anna Caballero, Assemblymember Robert Rivas and Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez; and a special appearance by San Francisco 49ers mascot Sourdough Sam. After the assembly, students joined Fuentes and SONC staff for a panel discussion, followed by Unified activities on the quad.
SONC is proud to join in celebrating San Benito High School as a leader of inclusion. Thanks to students and staff like those from San Benito and hundreds of others throughout Northern California, we are building a more loving world and a future in which – hopefully – San Benito’s example will become the everyday norm.
“It just makes me want to be a better person,” said Maraya. “Inclusion should just be like my other hand. It shouldn’t be something that we think about. It should just be natural for everyone.”