Unified breaks down barriers of separation through sports

SPS forges ahead in providing opportunities of inclusivity for GenEd students


Semai Hagos

Players from BHS gather with the Roosevelt Rough Riders at the end of the Unified basketball game to receive sportsmanship awards.

Semai Hagos, Features Editor

General Education (GenEd) plays a huge role in the social and economic lives of students, shaping who they hang out with and how they spend spare time. Throughout the years, students with learning disabilities have been pushed to isolation by peers.

Co-teachers Denise Bolen and Robyn Maddess provide a safe and enthusiastic classroom environment for any student that walks through the doors of SW208.

“We support kids that are in GenEd classes,” Bolen said. “They have a period each day where they do life skills [such as] cooking, cleaning and work on their specific IEP goals.”

Otherwise, students are in modified courses.

Students stay in the same inclusion class throughout their four years at the school, allowing Bolen and Maddess to build relationships with students’ families.

Along with connecting with families, they treasure the bonding of students with different educational backgrounds.

“Unified is our club that promotes inclusion here at Ballard,” Maddess said.

The Unified club allows students of different abilities and grades to form a team and play basketball together.

“These are after school activities, where students with and without disabilities are coming together to participate together,” Maddess said.

At the end of the year, Unified has an event in which the team will compete against another Unified team from the district.

“Every year we have an event called ‘Jam the Dam’,” Maddess said. “It’s a big basketball game … the band comes, the cheerleaders come, the concession stand is going and we sell swag, and it’s this super fun event.”

Dec. 7 was this year’s Jam the Dam event, and was held in the main gym against Roosevelt.

“It’s really cool for our students with special needs to get an opportunity to play basketball on this full size court in their home gym,” Maddess said. “Because they don’t get that opportunity otherwise.”

Such occasions have proven to have a positive outcome, as it makes high school a time worth looking back on.

“We have some of the highest graduation rates for students with IEPs in the district,” Maddess said. “We do a really good job here at Ballard.”

This is no exaggeration either. In previous years, there’s been Unified drama, robotics, soccer, and Video Game Club. Bolen noted student improvement throughout the years, and has received positive feedback from families.

“I feel like a lot of our students don’t report feeling bullied here at Ballard. A lot of our students come in being really scared of high school [because] it’s so big and they’re worried about being bullied, but they really don’t leave with that experience,” Maddess said. “They feel included. They feel part of Ballard High School, which is really great.”

Semai Hagos