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News and Events

Fridley Middle School students embrace Unified WIN class
Posted 01/27/2020 11:30AM

At Fridley Middle School (FMS), students are participating in an opportunity to foster an inclusive and positive environment for all. Since the 2018-19 school year, FMS became a Unified Champion School, an initiative created by the Special Olympics. The program promotes social inclusion through intentionally-planned and implemented activities, such as unified classes, school-wide engagement opportunities, and youth leadership opportunities.

Many middle school students are embracing this initiative by participating in Unified WIN class. WIN, which stands for “What I Need,” is a dedicated, self-directed enrichment time for 7th and 8th grade students who make a weekly choice of activity they wish to participate in. The Unified class features a 1:1 ratio of students with and without a disability.

“Unified WIN creates an environment where everyone is an equal, rather than a mentorship opportunity,” said FMS Special Education teacher Jessica Mularie. “In Unified WIN, we have our students pick their own weekly activities so they have ownership of what they are doing.”

According to Mularie, the main purpose of this is to encourage community and relationship building. During the class, students play a variety of games, participate in guided conversations, and enjoy activities that allow them to build meaningful friendships with one another.

“I love how this class brings everyone together,” said 8th grader Brooklyn Dahms. “We do a lot of cooking, coloring, and other activities to get our brains working - and we do all of it together as a community. It’s a great opportunity to work with others, embrace our differences, and build a positive mindset.”

According to 8th grader Sam Gemlo, the best part is having the opportunity to spend time with his younger brother. “I get to hang out with him at school and meet all his friends,” said Gemlo. “I get to see what a typical day looks like for him, and it means a lot to me. I like working with everyone and being with so many great people in one place.”

As a Unified Champion School, it was important to the FMS team to implement a meaningful and intentional unified program.

“When we started the discussion in our school district last year, we talked a lot about our ‘why,’” said Mularie. “In general, middle school is a time when kids are starting to hang out with friends outside of a school environment more often.”

Although, Mularie added, it can be difficult for some students if they lack valuable opportunities to form relationships. 

“Unified WIN is a structured time where our students can build the foundations for those meaningful relationships,” she said. “For some of our students, this is one of the few times they are with their same-aged peers without an adult next to them. It means a lot to our students to have the opportunity to form these connections and true friendships.”

In November, students had the opportunity to participate in Unified Night Out (UNO), which was hosted by Special Olympics Minnesota at Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America. Several FMS students attended the optional field trip, which was held on a Sunday evening.

“Our students showed up for each other and really supported each other the entire night,” said Mularie. “It was like a huge birthday party with unified clubs throughout Minnesota. Our students had an absolute blast.”

Eighth grader Nadya Pugachova had recently joined the unified group, and said that she really enjoyed the entire experience. “It was so much fun because we were all close like a family,” said Pugachova. “We were all together like we’ve known each other for our whole lives. Being part of Unified WIN is definitely the highlight of my day.”

At the end of February, students will have another opportunity to attend the “Cool Schools Polar Plunge,” a Special Olympics Minnesota fundraiser, held at Lake Bde Mka Ska in Minneapolis.

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