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.  

Clem and kaitlyn

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:

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

Strengths-Based Social Inclusion

Written by Jerry Holy, Project UNIFY Coordinator; Sarah Wright, Senior Manager, Education Program Development; and Terry Pickeral, Senior Educational Consultant.

My personal strengths development helped me understand what I can do and what I am capable of. In my position of Coordinator, I have certain areas of Administration Operations, Resource Management and Communications that I work in. In each of these three areas, each of my five strengths are actively involved, helping me reach a higher and inclusive level among my colleagues. I have learned that each of my strengths has given me a new perspective on my abilities within the Project UNIFY Team. This perspective has shown me that I am capable of anything within the Project UNIFY Team.  It has also shown me that there are many opportunities within the Project UNIFY Team available to me. Those opportunities have allowed me to me a valuable team member in as well as outside of my organization. Jerry Holy

Jerry’s positive experiences in discovering and using his strengths reflect Special Olympics Project UNIFY commitment to strengths-based development.  Strengths-Based development helps youth and adults identify ways they naturally think, feel and behave.  These feelings and actions are defined as talents and directly align with the mission of Special Olympics, which states that Special Olympics provides an opportunity for “…the sharing of gifts, skills and friendships…”

Individual talents are important for each of us to build upon and use to contribute as a member of a team.  Teams should build on the strengths of all members to develop a more effective organization. Isn’t that what we learn in little league and school sports?  Even in the Olympics, individuals are trying to better themselves while representing an entire country.

We have translated this philosophy into deliberate practice. One of the tools Project UNIFY uses to identify talents is the GALLUP Clifton StrengthsExplorer and Quest that identifies each person’s talents.  Using a survey and review, individuals discover their top talents and how those talents play into everything they do.  These talents are also used in group settings to develop and improve relationships with others by understanding their talents. This type of activity can prove enlightening and useful in a variety of settings.

Project UNIFY is committed to social inclusion, and the focus on strengths is a big part of it.  Social inclusion is the belief that everyone can learn, engage and be successful in a group that focuses on everyone’s talents.  By Jerry understanding his strengths, he can envision his role in the team, and others can see how he enhances the entire group, and the value he provides. Social inclusion ensures fairness and equity so that all members of a group are equally engaged and empowered to contribute to the organization.

As schools understand our talents and become more socially inclusive, we feel safe, helped and engaged.  That results in feeling better about ourselves and having more positive attitudes about others. In an Oregon high school, students with and without disabilities who were part of a Partner’s Club utilized their strengths to work together to complete real-life tasks in their school community, which included holding a canned food drive.

Think how successful a school will be if it:

  1. sees students and adults by their strengths rather than their challenges,
  2. encourages us to share our strengths with others and
  3. creates classroom activities that build on our talents.

Think how great it would be if every student could reflect on their school experience in the same way that Jerry has reflected on his work with PU. How heartening would it be to hear about teachers being given support around their strengths rather than vilified for weaknesses?

The experiences Jerry expressed as an effective team member show the benefits of strength-based development and the reason Project UNIFY focuses on these strategies to create socially inclusive schools.