Teaching Social Inclusion in Schools

Sam Donnelly, 20, of Burlington is one of just fifty youth leaders from around the globe selected to take part in the Special Olympics Social Impact Summit in Graz, Austria in March of 2017. The six-day summit is a gathering of Generation Unified leaders who have applied with specific project proposals to be part of the summit and engage with global change mentors who will help them turn ideas into impact. Read on to learn more about Sam and his proposal to build socially inclusive classrooms.


My name is Sam Donnelly and I am a first year students at the University of Vermont. As a Burlington, Vermont native, I grew up going to school at Champlain Elementary School,  Edmunds Middle School, and Burlington High School, and  grew to love the opportunities and education that these schools gave me. Now that I am outside of the Burlington School District, I want to give back to it.

I have been a Special Olympics Vermont volunteer, Unified partner, coach, and intern. Last Fall I applied to the Special Olympics Social Impact Summit, a gathering of youth leaders from around the world together. In order to be selected, each applicant created a project plan around inclusion. I was fortunate enough to be accepted and as a result, I will be traveling to Austria this March and, following successful completion of the summit workshops, receiving a $2,500 grant to launch my project.

My project’s goal is a simple one: to create a more inclusive environment in our schools. I thought a lot about each aspect of the public school experience, from lunchtime to after school sports. After looking at each aspect I decided that I wanted to create a class that fosters social inclusion and equality. I hope to run a pilot program for the class next fall at Burlington High School. This class would include students with and without intellectual disabilities. The class would be centered around students completing inquiry projects that help make their school a more inclusive place for all. Below i have inserted the official class title and description.

Class Title: The Importance of Social Inclusion

Class Description:   

This class “The Importance of Social Inclusion,” is designed for students who want to help build a more inclusive world. It provides an introductory examination into different parts of the question: why is inclusion important? For the first half of the class students will learn and research different parts of inclusion and the history of intellectual disabilities. For the second half of the class students will create inquiry projects focused on increasing inclusion around school. The class goal is to define inclusion, examine its importance, and develop strategies to expand inclusion within the school and broader community.

In planning for the class, I have also started to plan for potential challenges. These could range from enrollment challenges to finding a teacher for the class. I am currently working on writing curriculum for the class. In my next post I will provide some curriculum examples and introduce the team of people I will be working with over the next year.
-Samuel Donnelly

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Update: March 21, 2017

On day 1, we had an introduction to the Global Youth Summit and spent time learning about the Special Olympics global strategic plan. We also did some leadership and team-building exercises.

On day 2, we participated in the Unified Talk. Questions were posed by two moderators and we spoke to an audience of around 100 people.

On Day 3, we attended another Unified talk where we learned about how to be comfortable around other who we don’t know. Lot’s of dancing! In the evening, we had cultural night and had the opportunity to mingle with many of the Youth Summit participants from other countries.

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Update: April 12, 2017

My experience at the Special Olympics World Games in Austria was eye opening. Everyday I had the pleasure of being exposed to inclusion, culture, and knowledge. As a participant of the Global Youth Leadership Summit I had the opportunity to learn about leadership, facilitation, budgets, and much more. One amazing part of the World Games was having the opportunity to watch some of the Unified Sports. One match I remember the most was between the United States and Russia. The match went back and forth for a long time, with both teams trading goals, but, Russia eventually won. After the game I saw the players shake hands and smile, which showed the true spirit behind the game. It wasn’t about who won or where they were from, it was about inclusion and having fun. Seeing cultures mix and still create inclusion inspired me. That is the inspiration that I’ve taken back to Vermont and hope to share with others.