JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A shared feeling of unity has never been stronger at Atlantic Coast High School in Jacksonville and now it’s nationally recognized. The high school earned national banner recognition as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School.
It’s a prestigious title only awarded to schools that exhibit a commitment to 10 standards of excellence developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.
Atlantic High School Special Olympics Coach Pam Enteman had been working to achieve the banner for the past eight years. The creation of a sports program pairing students with and without intellectual disabilities ultimately won the school a spot in the national list.
“It’s nice to be able to see what the athletes and partners have achieved together. The goals they set for themselves. The pride they have in themselves. It’s just every year that goes by we see more and more unification and more blending. And they just achieve,” Enteman said.
Participating students said the lessons extended far beyond the bounds of the sports in the program.
“I learned playing sports is like be in shape and make friends and interact with each other,” Special Olympics athlete Allen Smith said.
As part of the program, each athlete in the program is paired with a student partner. Special Olympics partner Gilberto Herdocia explained how that interaction works.
“Our job is to coach the athletes because special Olympics coaches the coaches aren’t allowed to coach. So we’re here to help them out, guide them the right way. Teach them how to play the game to the best of their ability,” he said.
Though there are other schools in Duval County certified a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, Atlantic Coast is the only school in Duval County to offer students class credit for participating and is the only school to host all events within school hours.
Find a full list of schools with the 2019 banner.