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Champions Together club bringing Shelbyville students together

Shelbyville Middle School has added another banner to proudly display and it comes in large part courtesy of a group of students who are looking to make a difference.

The middle school was recently named one of five Champions Together banner schools in the state of Indiana.

Joining schools in Lowell, South Ripley, Rochester and one of the middle schools in Brownsburg, Shelbyville was awarded the banner at the Sept. 28 game against New Palestine. The banner means Shelbyville Middle School is officially recognized to have a United Champions Club.

The club’s purpose is to unify students with and without disabilities, eighth-grader Emma Sandman said in the office of Assistant Principal Wes Hall, who is the club sponsor.

Sandman is a member of the leadership team that has organized the middle school club. The wheels started turning in motion last year for the club to become recognized by Champions Together, which is a partnership between the Special Olympics and the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

“It really just helps unite us,” she said of the club. “Not only do we impact them because we’re influencing them and acting as role models, they’re also influencing us in ways they don’t understand.”

She said she enjoys seeing those students grow through the course of the year and seeing them outside of the classroom.

In order to become recognized as a banner school, a school must fulfill certain requirements: all activities sponsored by the school are required to be planned and organized by a student leadership team; it must organize an event that promotes school engagement with disabled students; it must organize a Unified Sports activity; and it must raise $750 for Special Olympics, according to Hall. The leadership team also was required to meet with Champions Together officials to show why they wanted to become a banner school.

The middle school leadership team organized a kickball tournament last school year and participated in the Unified Track event, along with every Shelbyville school.

The high school was already a Champions Together school, Hall said, and there was a “slow progression” toward creating one in the middle school.

“We thought it would do just as much at the middle school level for all students, students with disabilities, students without disabilities,” he said. “The emphasis isn’t on any one side.”

The middle school partnered with the Middle Level Educator’s Association in coordinating with the Special Olympics.

The “heart” of the program is servant leadership and student-driven leadership he said. It is the leadership team’s responsibility to plan and implement any activities.

The fact that the club is expected to be organized by students was the scariest aspect, he said, but they’ve proven that they’re up to the task.

“I think a lot of times, high school kids have developed enough to take on that leadership, but this is a great example of these middle school kids being just as developed to take on a leadership role,” he said.

Along with the Unified Track event, the club is looking into doing a fire truck pull. The husband of one of the teachers at the school is a firefighter and Sandman suggested they could look into partnering with the high school for a fundraising event in which teams will compete to see who pulls the farthest. The club is also looking into a big activity similar to last year’s kickball tournament and one student drew a club logo that they’re hoping to print on T-shirts.

All of that work is intended to bring the student population together, both those with and without disabilities.

So far, it seems to be working.

“It’s awesome to see at lunch and in the hallways and those lasting friendships,” Hall said. “I think both sides get a ton out of their development socially and an acceptance of everybody.”

Sandman said she’s met students she wouldn’t normally see because they aren’t in the same classes.

“I just want to help out as much as I can because I know they’re not as included in our school as much as they should be,” she said. “This (club) really helped. Now, everyone knows them and everyone talks to them. We’ve just made friendships that I wouldn’t have made.”

And that is the best part about the club for Hall.

“This is giving that authentic learning on a much deeper level,” he said. “I think anytime I’m able to get the learning outside of the classroom, and to extend the classroom, is a phenomenal opportunity for these young students as they grow and learn. She’s (Sandman) probably going to have relationships that last well beyond high school even. For me, that’s what is probably the coolest part of the program.”

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