LAS CRUCES – Mayfield High School continues to be dedicated to inclusion with a basketball game involving students from the school team and students from the Unified Champion Schools division of Special Olympics.
The entire student body erupted in cheers as the students – disabled and not – walked to court on Friday afternoon.
“Before, our students with disabilities, you could see they weren’t really included throughout the school,” said Liz Branch, a 19-year-old speech pathologist at Mayfield High who helped organize Friday’s event. “They really had no friends outside of their students in their class, outside of their classrooms. (Now) when you see them walking down the hall, they clap everyone and shake everybody’s hand.”
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Now Mayfield is fully involved in the Unified Champion Schools Division, which is a program that allows students with and without disabilities to play sports together and form lasting friendships.
In the 2020-2021 school year, Mayfield was recognized as one of the top 5 programs nationwide for inclusion by ESPN and Special Olympics.
“We were really able to include all of our children and treat them like we would all students in the school,” Branch said of the program.
Besides sports, Mayfield also offers inclusive opportunities for extracurricular activities, including after-school clubs, gardening, and student government. These opportunities have increased participation in academic and extracurricular activities and created friendships that go far beyond the field or the court, according to a statement from the program.
Friday’s basketball game featured about 40 athletes, a mix of students from the school’s basketball teams and special education students. The crowd roared at every field goal attempt and booed when the referee made trip or double-dribble calls.
All the students smiled throughout the game.
New Mexico Lieutenant Governor Howie Morales made an appearance to show his support as a former teacher and specialty trainer.
“(Inclusion) means everything to a community, to a family, to a school,” Morales told the Sun-News. “What it does is it shows us that we’re all in this together. Recognizing that some of us may have certain strengths and others bring other strengths to the table, putting all of that together is how you form a community. That’s exactly what we’re here to celebrate: community.”