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'A massively unique honor': Homewood-Flossmoor lauded by Special Olympics as among top schools for inclusiveness

'A massively unique honor': Homewood-Flossmoor lauded by Special Olympics as among top schools for inclusiveness
Homewood-Flossmoor students Myah Garrett, a junior, and Cori Hoekstra, a senior, were members of the Special Olympics Unified Illinois Women's Soccer Team during competitions at the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics in Chicago. (Homewood-Flossmoor High School photo)

Homewood-Flossmoor Special Education Teacher David Dore views Special Olympics’ recent naming of the south suburban school as one of only two Unified Champion high schools in Illinois in 2018 as “

After Homewood-Flossmoor High School was lauded as one of only two 2018 Unified Champion high schools in Illinois by Special Olympics, special education teacher David Dore said it was “a massively unique honor.”

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“It’s a recognition of 3,000 students, 300 staff and our district and community working toward inclusion of all,” he said. “The district and local community have supported (the program) financially and with time every time there’s a need.

“Not every teacher that does what I do experiences the same level of support.”

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But for H-F junior Marc Ramirez, the recognition simply translates to feeling he’s fully a member of the student body – particularly with regard to sports.

According to Special Olympics, his school has met the organization’s 10 standards of excellence, in the areas of sports, inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement.

Ramirez, one of 40 intellectually disabled students at the school, said he likes “participating in Special Olympics soccer and doing track.”

“I like kicking the ball by the goalie. I do like making new friends,” he added.

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Homewood-Flossmoor pairs its intellectually disabled students athletes” with mainstream student partners.

Ramirez is teamed with Maggie McNellis, an H-F senior who intends to become a special education teacher after college. Being actively involved in Homewood-Flossmoor’s program, she said, has enabled her “to connect more with the athletes and help to guide them.”

“Seeing Marc become more confident makes me feel I was part of something special,” added McNellis, an athlete in her own right as a member of the girls softball team.

McNellis and fellow senior Cori Hoekstra, in a recent example of leadership and whole-school engagement, raised $1,600 for Special Olympics during the H-F varsity field hockey team’s Sept. 4 Awareness Game against Stevenson High School. Special Olympics athletes were able to participate in the game as ball runners, scorekeepers and conducting the coin toss.

Dore said measuring the success of Homewood-Flossmoor’s program “depends on the team.”

“We have a basketball season versus a basketball day,” he said. “We train; we practice. We want to get better in our skills and we compete. We have to come together as a team.”

Homewood-Flossmoor High School students March Ramirez, left, and Maggie McNellis stand in front of Homewood-Flossmoor's trophy case, which includes awards won by the school's unified teams.
Homewood-Flossmoor High School students March Ramirez, left, and Maggie McNellis stand in front of Homewood-Flossmoor's trophy case, which includes awards won by the school's unified teams. (Dennis Sullivan / Daily Southtown)

A member of the Homewood-Flossmoor faculty since 2004, Dore said, “I’m a teacher first, so I always hear about growth and being better than you were the day before.”

But too often, he said, friends and parents let an intellectually disabled person win a game simply because he or she is disabled.

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With Special Olympics, “you only get the gold medal if you win, the silver medal if you come in second. We learn to graciously deal with defeat and celebrate victories when we win.”

Dore stressed Homewood-Flossmoor’s approach is “not a ‘one-off,’ one-day thing. It’s not just limited to sports and clubs, but all across the board. It’s being thoughtful in how you include in a meaningful way.”

Homewood-Flossmoor has a growing and consistent effort, Dore said.

“Our approach is, every year, let’s do a little bit more,” he said.

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