BOZEMAN — Earlier this month, three schools across the Treasure State achieved National Banner School status with the Special Olympics for their work and commitment to creating an inclusive environment for students with and without intellectual disabilities.
It’s the first time schools in Montana have ever been chosen for this honor, which now includes both Bozeman High and Bozeman Gallatin High School.
“That just speaks volumes for Bozeman Public Schools, the administration, the staff, and the students and the parents," Unified Champion Schools senior director Jeannette Gray said. "It takes everyone to make this happen, and it takes everyone to create an inclusive school district.”
With only 68 schools being selected this fall across the nation, having two just miles from each other is rare.
However, Bozeman Public Schools has been working towards creating a district where every school is committed to being a Unified Champion by focusing on three main components: whole-school engagement, inclusive leadership, and unified sports.
“We participate pretty much year-round," Special Olympics Montana local program coordinator Joey Hancock explained. "During the school year, all three seasons we have some kind of unified sports going on. With that unified piece, it’s bringing in students with and without disabilities together.”
By becoming a National Banner School, that not only means both Gallatin and Bozeman achieved success in each of those three components, but they took it a step further by meeting 10 national standards while also demonstrating sustainability.
“As we continue to get more of our schools this recognition because I do feel our elementary and middle schools are doing amazing things," Hancock added. "I just think that’s all going to help with that sustainability piece too because we’re kind of the feeder schools from the awesome things that are going on in the elementary to the middle school to the high school.”
The lengthy application process took place throughout the entire 2020 school year, which then went to a review board at the state level and was eventually approved by a national board.
“From my athletes, their families, I know what it means to them to have their kids come to school here and be a part of Special Olympics, be a part of their school, and it’s what makes it all worth it," Hancock concluded.
Along with Polson Middle School, Gallatin and Bozeman will hold this title for the next four years where they will continue to lead the way in inclusion throughout their schools and community.