Ste. Genevieve High School has been named an official National Banner Unified Champion School for its commitment to inclusion. The Dragons met 10 standards of excellence focusing on Unified Sports, inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement.
Ste. Genevieve plans on celebrating this recognition at a pep assembly on Friday. Anyone who would like to attend the celebration can email firstname.lastname@example.org. There will also be another big celebration in the spring of 2023.
“We are so excited to be able to share with our community the amazing relationships and culture we have cultivated here at Ste. Genevieve High School and throughout our district,” said teacher, Special Olympics Missouri coach and FRIENDS co-sponsor Kristi Cleghorn. “While this is our first year being recognized as a 2022 Special Olympics National Banner Unified Champion School, our students, teachers and staff have been building inclusivity through our FRIENDS — formerly Jelly Beans — program since 2015.
“Our motto here is ‘DRAGONS: Family. Tradition. Excellence.’ At SG R-II, we make sure that our students know they belong here in our Dragons family. When our students head out into the world after high school, we hope that they can then use the skills we have given them to make the world a better place.”
The Dragons may be from a small town, but they have done an exceptional job creating an inclusive environment for students with intellectual disabilities, according to Special Olympics officials.
Earlier this March, Ste. Genevieve hosted its 5th annual Ste. Genevieve County Polar Plunge and raised more than $15,000 for Special Olympics Missouri. A few months later, the Dragons hosted their first Unified Track Meet, where 121 students from 10 schools came together to support inclusion.
“It means the absolute world to be recognized with this award,” said Arie Taylor, member of the FRIENDS organization. “Our school and staff work so hard for our students, and so much of it is behind the scenes. This recognition means that their work isn’t going unnoticed. It means that we are making a difference by just loving all of our kids and giving them our all.
“FRIENDS has taught me the true meaning of our differences, inclusion and equal opportunities. I am so thankful for Ms. Cleghorn, all of her aides, her students, our teachers and coaches, and everything they have done for our school. Ms. Cleghorn has created such an amazing atmosphere, and SGHS would not be the same without it.”
Ste. Genevieve High School officials thanked a number of people for their passion and contributions to the win, including: Special education teacher, Special Olympics Missouri and FRIENDS co-sponsor Kristi Cleghorn; Ste. Genevieve students; Special Education Paraprofessionals Crystal Jett, Joan Ponder, and Trisha Basler; Substitute Aide Alexis Bova; FRIENDS co-sponsor Kyle Schweiss; Art Teacher Rebecca Keim; the student members of FRIENDS and all of the FRIENDS alumni; coaches Jessica Hess, Tyne Huck, Corey Samples and Chris Thompson; Athletic Director Jeff Nix; former and current Directors of Student Services Dr. Teresa Green and Jami Drury; High School Principal Dr. John Boyd; Assistant Superintendent Dr. Paul Taylor; Superintendent Dr. Julie Flieg.
Ste. Genevieve is now the second Missouri school to earn this coveted distinction, joining Festus High School. Festus became a National Banner Unified Champion School back in 2020.
In 2021, just 68 schools from around the country were recognized as National Banner Unified Champion Schools by Special Olympics North America (SONA). This year, that number jumped to 166.
Special Olympics Missouri is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Thousands of athletes participate in 16 Olympic-type sports throughout the state. Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy as they participate in the sharing of gifts and friendship with their fellow athletes, their family and friends and communities across Missouri.