Following Inclusive Youth Leadership: Post Twitter Chat Reflection

Jamie Behymer, a co-chair of the Inclusive Youth Leadership Sub-Committee with the National YAC, shares her reflections about a recent #ProjectUNIFY Twitter Chat.

Phones in hand, Twitter App open, and ideas ready for sharing, the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee met on Monday, January 13 to host the first-ever Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Twitter Chat!

 A Few Thoughts About the Twitter Chat

“Before Twitter I was on a lonely road; the Twitter Chat is the intersection that brings all the different cars, different people, different ideas flowing together,” James Kweon, an Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee co-chair, said.

“This was something monumental,” Clement Coulston, the Inclusive Youth Leadership mentor, said. “Youth are the leaders of today and through collaboration and reflection, we were able to foster an idea of a new social norm, inclusion.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 8.57.42 PMMembers of the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee educated participants about Inclusive Youth Leadership and the Guidebook that supports it’s development, but also learned how social media can impact continued collaboration. With the sub-committee tweeting out questions using #ProjectUNIFY, conversations were easily accessible for participants and continue to encourage discussions with people from around the world.

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Twitter Chats are utilized to promote communication through stories, experiences, and resources, using 140-characters or less. “Youth” was the most prominent word throughout the evening, followed by “change” and “leader.” Whether it was an Adult Ally tweeting from Montana, or high school student in Washington, the Twitter Chat ignited ideas concerning the voice students’ have in society.

Karina Silva, an Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee member, closed the chat with:

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Her tweet, like many others, showcased the power of inclusion and acceptance, and solidified the notion that everyone can be an agent of change.

With 48 contributors and 475 tweets, the inaugural Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Twitter Chat surpassed the expectations of the Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee, I would love to hear feedback from participants in the future.  Click on the Storify below to review highlights from the chat and follow us @SOProjectUNIFY!

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Inaugural Special Olympics #ProjectUNIFY Twitter Chat!

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We encourage you to join the inaugural Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Inclusive Youth Leadership Twitter Chat on Monday, January 13 at 7:00 p.m. EST! This is an opportunity for youth and adult allies to engage in a conversation on changing social climate in schools and using social media as a form of reflection –  to celebrate past successes or gain insight on any challenges individuals have faced.

The Inclusive Youth Leadership sub-committee, with the Special Olympics National Youth Activation Committee, will be hosting the event and hopes to promote awareness of inclusion in communities across the country. To join the conversation, simply create a Twitter account and use the #ProjectUNIFY hashtag after all tweets and be ready for an awesome discussion!  Be sure to follow our Twitter Page, @SOProjectUNIFY.

Below is a resource that contains more information about Twitter and how to participate in the Twitter Chat. We look forward to all individuals that are ready to have their voices heard!

 

Age Isn’t a Predictor for Success

Clement Coulston and Kaitlyn Smith are members of the Special Olympics Project UNIFY National Youth Activation Committee.  They were recently asked to co-author one of the 11 Practice Briefs, focusing on School Climate and Inclusion.  

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Often times when society thinks of “valuable contributors” to issues, discussions and insights, the first image that appears in their mind is one of a well-educated and experienced adult; very rarely is that intuition one of a young person. Youth are constantly told and often led to believe that they are “the leaders of tomorrow,” but what about today? Youth are the ones in the schools, collaborating with educators, and hold the power to make a change.

The magic of Special Olympics Project UNIFY® is the belief in young people to identify challenges in schools, co-create solutions, implement these strategies and reflect on its impact.  Young people of all abilities have valuable insights and can contribute innovative ideas, but we must re-orientate our expectations of how their talent can be best utilized.

The National School Climate Center (NSCC) has worked with youth leaders, like us, from Project UNIFY and has seen our potential.  With our extensive experience and interest in areas concerning School Climate and Inclusion, the NSCC asked us to author a Practice Brief encompassing our experiences, thereby providing strategies and practices that students, educators and the whole school community can further advance.

Below are some of our favorite excerpts from this 4-page Practice Brief. We encourage you to take a deeper look – the brief can be found in conjunction with other briefs on equity and shared leadership here: http://bit.ly/YcXFnr

Inclusion is a set of best practices and shared values that meaningfully support the diversity that each person brings to the school.

Students are the ones who have the power to alter the school climate in either a negative or positive way, based upon their perception of what a school climate should feel like. Students hold the power to make it either socially acceptable or unacceptable to unite with their fellow classmates who have differences.

At the center of Inclusion is the notion that diversity is an ever-growing phenomenon that evokes a need for the community to cultivate global citizenship in today’s students.

2013 Special Olympics Global Development Summit – The Youth Voice

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Clement Coulston and Rachel Ward, Global Youth Facilitators for the 2013 Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit participated in the inaugural Global Development Summit, which gathered 300 world leaders from areas of government, business, education, economic and social development, media … Continue reading

Schools should be Safe

230x300_SamHThe following blog post is from Samantha Huffman and was written in response to a recent article about a special needs student who was bound with duct tape during school.

Samantha is a former National Youth Activation Committee member and current senior, studying Elementary Education at Hanover College.  

I recently went to a conference where a young man with cerebral palsy kept bringing up how we needed to focus on students with disabilities being tied down to chairs or restrained and/or harmed in some other way by educators.  I kept thinking to myself how this wasn’t important because this would never be allowed to happen in a school in today’s society.  I’m a senior Elementary Education major and never once in my four years of classes have we addressed the idea of restraining students because that’s just plain wrong, isn’t it?  Well, apparently I was living in some kind of dream world and this young man at the conference was living in the real world.

Today I read one of the most terrifying and saddening stories.  In Indianapolis, my hometown nonetheless, an 8-year old girl with Down syndrome came home on the bus with industrial duct tape wrapped around her shoes and socks, which went all the way to the top of her ankles.  Shaylyn, the young girl, wasn’t even able to walk off the bus by herself because it hurt too much.  After her mom carried her daughter off the bus, she immediately took her back to the school where she received help to remove the duct tape.  The process took 30 minutes and left Shaylyn with bruises all over her ankles.

School is supposed to be a place where all children go to receive an education and this education is expected to be in a safe environment.  When this safe environment is jeopardized, the entire education system begins to crumble.

How is a student supposed to reach their full learning potential when they have to worry about the possibility of being harmed by their teacher?  In Shaylyn’s case, it was something as simple as not wanting to wear shoes that caused her to be harmed.  This was doing nothing to interfere with her education, yet one of her teachers decided to not only take away her time of learning to focus on her shoes, but she also chose to restrain her.

This wasn’t just a one-time case.  Currently there are 20 states that have no school policy against restraining students.  That means, that at any given moment of the school day, those students have the possibility of being physically restrained by their teachers and there’s nothing that can be done because it isn’t against policy.  How can this be possible in today’s world?  Teachers can get fired for hitting a child, but it’s perfectly fine for them to tape a student’s shoes to their feet or tie a student to a chair?  To me, these seem equivalently harmful to students, both physically and emotionally, as being hit.

We have come so far with bullying campaigns, disability awareness, etc.  But how can we expect students to view those with disabilities as equals when there are teachers out there who still dehumanize their students with disabilities?  For every student we reach with our awareness, there is a student out there who is turned away from accepting those with disabilities as equals because they see their teacher- their role model- disrespecting and dehumanizing one.

In what world is it okay to physically restrain someone because they aren’t doing what you want them to do?  It is not okay.  These policies need to be created in order to protect all students, especially those with disabilities.  And these teachers that think it is okay need to find a new profession.  Teachers are supposed to protect their students, build their self-esteem, and show them that they matter as a person. How is a teacher doing any of these things when they physically restrain their students?  The answer is they’re not.  All they are doing is showing their students that they have no power over what happens to them.  All they are doing is showing them that they are less than human because their free will- their ability to move freely as they wish- can be taken away for something as simple as not wanting to wear shoes.

Luckily, most teachers aren’t like this.  Most teachers are extremely successful in protecting their students, building their self-esteem, and showing them that they matter as people.  They have the appropriate skills and training to manage the many behavior challenges they will experience in their classrooms.  Unfortunately, many teachers are not given adequate training, instruction, and tools that would make this kind of act of desperation against a child an aberration.

Professional development and appropriate pre-service education for teachers is critical to ensure that we don’t fail our children.

A Bright Future

With the school year finally coming to an end, we wanted to share an inspiring speech to graduating seniors from college student Haylie Bernacki. Her advice to students: your involvement with Project UNIFY and SO College has prepared you for a bright and impactful future.

As classes end and summer begins, we all dream about our summer plans; not a care in the world…but not this summer. Not this year. This year we leave behind four years of our life, looking towards the future to start anew.

You may ask us if we are scared, anxious, or even intimated by what lies ahead. But I can tell you with confidence, assurance, and pride that we have the tools it takes to make our way in this world. We have been given the opportunity to see ourselves in a new light, the opportunity to build lasting relationships, the opportunity to say we were a part of something greater.

As we look back on our four years, we have learned to look at people for their abilities, that we are more similar than different; we have learned the power of a smile. There will be times in our life when the road seems unclear, but that will not faze us. How could it? We have had the best teachers in the world.

  • Our teachers see an obstacle and do not back down; they face it with determination and will.
  • Our teachers come with joy in their hearts and a smile on their face.
  • Our teachers have taught us to see life as a gift.
  • Our teachers show us that teamwork can make all the difference.
  • Our teachers accept everyone, love everyone, and encourage everyone to do their own individual best.
  • Our teachers prove that it is not important who wins, but the bravery in the attempt is what counts.

Our teachers are Special Olympics Athletes.

Without Special Olympics College in our lives, we would have not been able to learn from the best. We would have not been able to gain the wisdom the athletes had to offer. I can say with confidence that without Special Olympics College, we would not be the people we are today.

Today we can enter the world with the ability to see the goodness in life. We can enter the work force and see our co-workers for their abilities and the strengths they provide. We can enter graduate school with a better understanding of how we can make a difference.

We graduate today with a better understanding of life, what truly matters, and where we are headed.

Leadership: From High School to College

As you step down from the podium with your high school diploma in hand, you find yourself in an interim stage between adolescence and adulthood.  You feel as though you have arrived at Platform 9 ¾, stuck between worlds and ready to be carted off to a place perhaps just as magical as Hogwarts: college. While settling in on campus, so many things will change, but you must always remember that you are still a leader.  Everything you learned in high school and all the experience you gained will not go to waste; it will form the foundation of your college leadership.

With every passing year, you are given more freedom at the cost of responsibility.  High school allows you to act as independently as you may while still living under your parents’ roof.  Most youth leadership in high school allows students to form their own plans and carry them out under the structured guidance and supervision of faculty.  During this period, youth seem to be given a leadership permit—the wheel is handed over to them, but the adults still have a brake pedal installed in the passenger side just in case.  This allows students to develop their leadership skills, while letting adults take care of the boring work of forms and finances.

Transitioning from being a leader in high school to a leader in college may seem like you’re hitting the ground running, but it’s not as drastic as it seems.  At its heart, leadership at all stages is about inspiring people.  It’s true, there won’t be as much hand-holding and at times it may feel like the system is working against you, but pushing through all of that will not only make a name for yourself on campus, but foster your leadership ability in a way that you never before had the chance to.  You will be expected to work more independently, but even at college, there is always someone to reach out to for help when needed.  It is essential that you find the right people who will help you along your way, but let you work through your trials on your own.  College can be the best years of your life, but unlike in some high schools, you must always be actively seeking out opportunities to seize.

A leader is someone who shapes their community, so as you enter the realm of higher education, shape yours so that you leave it as a better place than when you first arrived.