National Banner School

PBHS named National Banner School by Special Olympics
Posted on 05/14/2024
PBHS unified student leaders, teachers and administration pose with the National Banner.

Poplar Bluff High School is one of five schools in Missouri to receive a national award for cultivating a climate where students with and without intellectual disabilities feel welcomed, both in practice and spirit.

PBHS was named a Special Olympics Unified Champions National Banner School during an assembly held on Tuesday, May 7, in the gymnasium featuring government officials and leaders from the organization.

“That is the definition of elite company,” said Ben Johnson, Unified Champion Schools manager for Special Olympics Missouri. He noted that PBHS tied for third out of over 550 school districts state-wide, due to the “phenomenal student leadership” who are “very much intentional about including all students.”

R-I Superintendent Dr. Aaron Cornman further put the accolade in perspective, pointing out that there are 806 all-time total Banner Schools across the country, 205 of which are members of the current class. Of the range of emotions a school administrator experiences throughout the year, the superintendent said that the greatest feeling is a sense of pride.

“Today, I am beaming with pride because of our students and your accomplishment,” Cornman continued. “This emotion of pride comes from knowing that you have demonstrated a commitment to inclusion for those with special needs by meeting the 10 rigorous standards of excellence developed by a national panel of leaders from both the Special Olympics and the greater educational community.”

To be considered, a school must participate in Unified Sports, combining an approximately equal number of regular and special education students; extend its inclusive youth leadership to clubs; practice whole school engagement during awareness and education activities; and develop a sustainability plan for fundraising that supersedes any individual involved.

“It reflects our unwavering commitment to inclusivity, compassion and the spirit of unity that defines the very essence of Poplar Bluff High School,” stated Dr. Valerie Ivy, PBHS principal. PBHS launched a Unified Champions club last school year that practices and competes in cornhole, basketball and track, with plans in the future to include bocce ball, flag football and soccer.

“Our community started this with the Buddy Ball program, and our Unified Champions program here at Poplar Bluff High School is proud to extend this to other sports as well during the school year,” added special education instructor Miranda Huddleston, club co-adviser. She explained what the concept means in general terms: “Playing sports with anyone who wants to be included.”

For decades, the district has hosted the SOMO spring games over which PBHS staffs certified coaches, with other employees in the pipeline to be trained. Participating student-athletes are provided free physicals from volunteers in the medical community in order to play, and they receive a district-wide send-off and are rooted on by a fan section during the event. Student Council hosts multiple fundraisers to supply prizes and activities in the adjacent Victory Village. An annual letter banquet is held afterward, and the seniors are given banners purchased by the Mules Booster Club.

In March, StuCo—which incorporates unified leadership roles—hosts a ‘spread the word to end the word’ (R-word) campaign to spread awareness, designing bracelets and stickers to circulate. The students additionally operate a school store, inclusively, providing customer service and managing the inventory for a practical arts credit toward graduation.

“This recognition underscores the hard work and commitment of our students, staff and community in fostering an environment of inclusivity and support,” said communication arts teacher Jennie Randolph, Unified Champions club co-adviser. She pointed out that it is not the work of a single group but rather a campus-wide effort.

Also during the assembly, Emma Thomas, Unified Champion Schools senior manager, delivered a plaque commemorating PBHS as an ESPN Honor Roll school. “You should be incredibly proud of the important work you continue to do to make our world a more inclusive place,” an accompanying letter signed by ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro states.

“We must make everyone understand that inclusion will never be an illusion,” said PBHS junior Maison Dennis, incoming Unified Champions co-president. He spoke about how he fondly remembers competing in Special Olympics as an elementary student, and last month he had the honor of singing the National Anthem during the opening ceremonies.

A proclamation delivered by Mayor Shane Cornman on behalf of the City of Poplar Bluff reads in part: "Whereas, Poplar Bluff High School has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement and respect for all members of the student body and staff; and whereas, Poplar Bluff High School has created a climate of acceptance where students with disabilities feel welcome and are routinely included in and feel a part of all sports, activities, opportunities and functions."


Cutline: PBHS Unified student leaders, teachers and administration pose with the National Banner and other prestigious awards at the conclusion of the school-wide assembly on Tuesday, May 7, in the gymnasium.

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