What Our Unified Champion School Means To Us

Dominic (left) and Carrie (right) at homecoming.

Hello, our names are Carrie Mullins and Dominic Cavazos, we are both seniors and we are the co-presidents of Alamo Heights High School’s Unified Champion School. We met in Kindergarten and have been friends ever since. In our club, we aim to promote inclusion across our campus for students of all abilities. We both have had unique experiences with inclusion at our school and want to share the ways that living unified has changed our lives.

This is Carrie. In my last year of high school, I can confidently say that my high school’s inclusive programs have made my high school career as unique and enjoyable as it has been. To me, Unified Champion School isn’t inherently about inclusion for students with intellectual disabilities. The club to me is about inclusion of all students, regardless of diagnosis. In my 12 years of schooling, I’ve felt the most accepted I’ve ever felt in my years spent in the club. The club to me assures that I have a place I can go at all times, friends I can be with, and parties to go to. I’ve seen the ways that inclusion has changed people’s lives; I’ve seen numerous lifelong lasting friendships forged, I’ve watched as my friends and fellow students self-confidence has flourished and I’ve gotten the unique chance to truly feel connected to a large and wonderful population of my student body, whether they be students in Special Ed or General Ed.

Hi, this is Dominic. I like playing basketball, I like video games, I like swimming, listening to music and hanging out with my friends. Before I was involved with UCS, I didn’t do a whole lot on the weekends. I used to not be very good with the weekends because I wished I could have been out with friends. Now on the weekends, I do a whole lot of stuff with my friends, and now I’m excited to start the weekend. I used to not be very included and felt so lonely all of the time, but now I’m not. I’ve got a lot of friends, things to do and I have a lot of things that make me happy. In the past few years, inclusion at my school has gotten bigger and better and now I have more ways to hang out with my friends and classmates. In the past two years, I’ve gotten to go to prom with my closest friends, I raced in a 5K with my friend Isaac and won, done White Elephant exchanges with a lot of people and gone to Homecoming with a big group, among lots of other things. These are things I haven’t gotten to do my entire life. This inclusion makes me feel great. It makes me feel empowered, it makes me feel confident and it makes me feel like I belong. I wish that everybody got to feel as included as I do, then the world would be happier.

Dominic and Carrie receiving a grant from Special Olympics at 2018’s Special Olympics of North America Conference.

Our high school has long had an inclusive campus, starting with integrating students in Special Education classes into general education courses, as well as starting the Peer Tutor program on our campus. The immediate effect of this was social inclusion — friendships were immediately created, students spent time outside of school together on the weekends and after school and the student body became happier, more unified. We stopped seeing each other for what made us different and starting seeing each other for how we’re alike. This way of thinking overtime has become ingrained in Alamo Heights culture, to not view each other for what sets us apart but for our individual talents and abilities. Today, with all of the strides our school has been making towards our goal of fostering an environment with complete and total acceptance, we can both confidently say, we live in a community and on a campus that is an example other schools should follow.

In a few days, our club will be hosting its second annual Caroline Gose Run, Walk, Roll into Inclusion 5k. The funds raised by this 5K go towards Special Olympics Unified Sports. Unified Sports are the future of inclusion. Last year, with our first 5K, we raised enough money to fund our first ever Unified Track team that just begun practicing this week. Unified Sports illustrates what it means to truly be more alike than different. Each player is valued and celebrated for their own talents, while creating an environment of complete and total equity. In the future, we hope to expand unified programs. These programs are unique because they transcend the barriers of “normal needs” and “special needs.” No athlete is defined by a single characteristic, diagnosis or ability.

As the two of us finish our lives as high schoolers, we could not be more grateful for our inclusive school and our time together in the club. We would urge anyone reading this to take the steps towards inclusion we have been talking about and have been fortunate enough to experience, into their own schools, cities and communities. Inclusion changes lives. It makes people happy. It creates friendships. It brings us together and it makes the world happier.

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