On Thursday, October 14th, Norwood Public Schools organized a district-wide opening ceremony and inclusive walk to demonstrate their participation in Special Olympics MA’s Unified Champion Schools program. The Norwood school district recently became a Unified Partner with Special Olympics MA and they kicked off the new school year in style with an opening ceremony that included five elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. While the students and faculty were the main participants in the ceremonies, the Norwood Police and Fire Department played an important role in making sure the torch got from school to school.
The torch started its journey at Norwood High School, where students marched through the halls holding up signs and showing their support for the Unified Champion Schools program and for inclusivity throughout the student body. The torch was carried through the entire school and then handed off to local law enforcement officers, who then drove it to nearby Balch Elementary school. Over the course of the day, the torch made its way to all of the other schools in the district including Prescott Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, Oldham Elementary, Coakley Middle School and Callahan Elementary.
While each participant was essential to making this day a success, Karen Hurley was certainly the MVP and made sure the opening ceremonies went smoothly. Karen is the Norwood liaison for the Unified Champion Schools program and has worked for the Norwood school district for the past eight years, mainly as a physical therapist for the special education department. Karen works with students at all of Norwood’s public schools and has created various campaigns focused on promoting better physical health —so Special Olympics MA’s Unified Champion Schools program is particularly close to her heart
Karen Hurley speaks at Norwood Public Schools opening ceremonies.
“Special Olympics and Unified Champions is such a great program,” said Karen, “I have taken a leadership role of overseeing all the liaisons at all of the schools and the implementation of the Unified Champions program in the district of Norwood. I think everyone should move and stay healthy no matter what.”
So how did this amazing day come about? “This summer I saw the Special Olympics ceremonies and I also looked on the website to plan for this year’s programs. I saw that Special Olympics MA had a torch run fundraiser, which I thought was a cool idea to do with the fire department and the police department,” said Karen. “So I brought that to the leadership group for the Unified Champions and they thought it was a great idea.”
By including local law enforcement, this opening ceremony was able to become a community-wide day of inclusivity. “It was really neat because the fire department came, the police department came, and they had the torch out their window and handed it off to the students who then paraded it around or handed it off to each other,” said Karen.
Students patiently wait outside to receive the torch.
The Unified Champion Schools program aims to build cultures of active inclusion at schools around the state of Massachusetts and is a great way for students with and without intellectual disabilities to stay active. Karen has been amazed to see how this program has had a positive impact on the students she works with. “Students are learning to become more actively inclusive. Everyone can participate, it’s just that some people’s running may look a little different. It all can be done. I think it has opened people’s eyes in a new way to look at things like that,” she said.
At a time where the schoolyear still looks different than usual, Norwood’s opening ceremonies brought positivity to the student body and energized the entire community. “Schools are a very tough place to be working in right now with the pandemic, and to have this event that was so positive with so many acts of kindness, acceptance, inclusivity just made everyone feel good,” Karen said. “Even the firemen and police officers thanked us for participating because they enjoyed it so much. It was such a positive event for everyone involved, it was incredible. It was so uplifting and so positive.”