Monday, June 17, 2024

The Unified Basketball Game featured two teams including both Special Ed and General Ed playersThe Unified Basketball Game featured two teams including both Special Ed and General Ed players


Woodland High School recently hosted its first ever Unified Basketball Game, an event designed to bring together students from the Special Education (SPED) program and their General Education (GenEd) peers to create a spirit of sportsmanship and unity. Students at Woodland High School gathered to cheer on the players in the inaugural basketball game during a schoolwide assembly.

Studies show that inclusion of students with disabilities with their general education peers helps develop social skills and improve academics. For students in GenEd, such activities help foster respect and empathy. Catherine Pulliam, a counselor at Woodland High School and a passionate advocate for inclusion, came up with the idea after watching a video showcasing a similar unified basketball game at her uncle’s school. So began the journey toward an extraordinary event that would unite students from diverse backgrounds.

No time was wasted. Pulliam sought out Alex Onslow, one of Woodland High School's DSP teachers, about her idea. They began discussing important steps, people to contact, and things to include for the big day. They coordinated extensive game day checklists, team rosters, teacher coaches, jerseys and game day schedules.


The game was held during a schoolwide assembly where the entire student body cheered on both teamsThe game was held during a schoolwide assembly where the entire student body cheered on both teams


All Diverse Support Program (DSP) students were offered the opportunity to participate in the game with their GenEd peers. To prepare for the contest, Woodland High School GenEd and DSP students practiced together in the school’s Unified Physical Education (PE) class – where students with and without disabilities organize and participate in PE activities together.

Unified Fitness was a club brought to Woodland public schools by Onslow in 2021. It developed into Unified PE when Onslow proposed the new course to administration in 2022. Coach Sean McDonald, with a special education and physical education background, took on the opportunity to teach the course during the 2023-2024 school year. With guidance from DSP teachers Alex Onslow and Ryan Balara, the Washington Special Olympics Player Coordinator in the Columbia River Region, McDonald made this a memorable and inclusive course for all involved.

However, Unified PE isn’t the only avenue for inclusion at Woodland High School. Students in the DSP also deliver weekly newspapers, participate in GenEd classrooms, recycle and actively engage in GRIT 101 courses where students learn the importance of inclusion and respect. Woodland Public Schools aims to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed and supported, regardless of differences.


Students from the Unified Physical Education class also served as players and coachesStudents from the Unified Physical Education class also served as players and coaches


“Catherine’s enthusiasm was contagious,'' said Alex Onslow. Woodland High School's video production crew created video commercials, advertisements, and video highlights to promote the big game. Multiple classes created individualized posters for students in special education as well as posters and flyers around the school. PIT (Partners in Transition) students were also offered an opportunity to participate in the Unified Basketball game. The PIT program is a life skills/job skills school for students aged 18-22 that are in special education.

Woodland High School cheerleaders, mascot, band, the marketing and video production classes, teacher and paraeducator volunteers, as well as parents were ecstatic to be a part of this big event. The assembly was truly about inclusivity with the entire school and community.

The Unified Basketball game as a whole school assembly was a first for Woodland High School and it was a testament to the power of teamwork and the spirit of inclusivity. The game was held during a schoolwide assembly, featuring students from both the SPED and GenEd programs as well as student volunteers and staff members who served as referees. “The Unified Basketball game was more than just a sports event; it was a celebration of the unique talents and abilities of every student,” said Alex Onslow. “By bringing together students from different backgrounds and abilities, the game promoted a sense of unity and understanding among the school community.”

Students and teachers alike raved about the event. “As part of the Special Olympics, I've seen dozens, if not hundreds, of Unified Sports games across the state, and the crowd and enthusiasm in Woodland was the best I've seen at any event,” said Ryan Balara, a special education teacher. Jeff Bockert, a school counselor, agreed with Balara, sharing, “This was quite possibly the best assembly I've seen in twenty years of working in education.”

Bryana Steck, the school’s band teacher, remarked how some of her students were impacted by witnessing the schoolwide support for the game. “This was the most wholesome, fun assembly that we have participated in this year, if not ever,” she said. “Several of my students actually became pretty emotional as we watched the entire school support our Unified Basketball team.”

Onslow and her DSP team plan to bring Unified Soccer to Woodland High School in the fall of 2024. She and her team are also hoping to organize and facilitate a Special Education Prom to include neighboring schools.