Dartmouth High renewed as Special Olympics National Banner School

Nov 13, 2022

Dartmouth High was recognized for its spirit of inclusivity on Thursday, Nov. 10, when it was officially renewed as a National Banner Unified Champion School by the Special Olympics.

The designation is given only to schools that run unified sports programs — where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates — while also promoting “inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement.”

It is the second time that Dartmouth has been awarded the recognition, which is renewed every four years. Dartmouth is one of only a dozen national banner schools in the commonwealth.

“You guys are the elite of the elite,” said Patti Doherty, a representative from the Special Olympics who spoke during a whole-school assembly intended to celebrate the achievement.

The ceremony began with an exhibition game of the unified basketball team with Dartmouth athletes playing both sides as students cheered them on enthusiastically from the bleachers.

At halftime, Doherty officially unveiled the banner with the help of the athletes, congratulating the school on its rare achievement.

When the assembly was finished, the students took a whole-school group photo to mark the occasion.

Once the students had been dismissed, DCTV and the Dartmouth High media department held a press conference with athletes from the unified basketball team to talk about the importance of such programs.

“It has changed my life,” said senior Shafer Marcovici, who said he joined the team last year. “It’s great that the school offers these opportunities.”

Another student, Sol Rosas, gave an emotional account when asked what her favorite part of the Special Olympics is.

“Feeling accepted,” she said. “Because when I was very little I used to get bullied and everyone used to say ‘you’re ugly,’ ‘you have a hard time learning,’ and I never really felt accepted in life until the day I got to Dartmouth.”

Another student explained that unified sports fulfill a different role than traditional sports, being less focused on results and more about the experience itself.

“It’s not as competitive, it’s just about having fun and making connections with people on the team,” said Alex DaSilva.

And Dartmouth’s inclusive programs extend beyond basketball.

Unified Basketball Coach John Breault said the school recently began offering a unified bowling program and is also in the process of beginning unified volleyball.

He added that, outside of sports, Dartmouth High also has a “best buddies” club and a weekly “Café Tuesday” in which students with special needs get experience with retail transactions by selling coffee and donuts to teachers and staff.

“We think of it as a community thing,” he said.

Breault said that Dartmouth High has excelled in inclusivity in part because it had a head start.

“For us it’s great because we’re established,” he said. “We’re one of the only schools in Massachusetts to ever have this honor [of national banner status] twice.”

He explained that he and Dartmouth High Principal Ryan Shea both interned with Dartmouth Middle School adapted physical education teacher Mike Capello — an early adopter of unified sports philosophy — earlier in their careers.

Dartmouth Superintendent Dr. Bonny Gifford added that the process of inclusivity starts with keeping students with special needs in their home schools by providing programs that meet their needs.

“We work hard to keep the kids in the district,” she said. “That’s our core belief throughout the district — keep them in their home schools.”