How Butler’s College of Education and Special Olympics Work Together for Inclusion – Stories


About seven years ago, professors from the College of Education (COE) at Butler University read a book written by Timothy Shriver, president of Special Olympics, a global organization providing sports programs to empower athletes with intellectual disabilities. . Inspired by the book, the COE invited Shriver to tour the campus and speak with Butler’s students.

Shriver declined the offer. Go further than that he suggested.

“He really challenged us to think about giving our students opportunities to interact and learn from people with disabilities, rather than just talking about them,” says Erin Garriott, METL ’01, COE Lecturer in Education specialized. “He told us, ‘If you give your students five minutes on the basketball court with one of my athletes, it will teach them a lot more about inclusion than I ever could.'”

The idea sparked a relationship between the WCC and Special Olympics Indiana (SOIN) that has continued to grow as both organizations work on their inclusion and advocacy missions. From hosting shared events on the Butler campus to inviting SOIN athletes to attend college classes, the ongoing collaboration has blossomed into a relationship that was recently formalized through a memorandum of understanding. three years, creating new opportunities for Butler and CARE to support and learn from one another.

“Special Olympics Indiana’s vision is that sports will open the hearts and minds of people with developmental disabilities to create inclusive communities across the state,” said Jeff Mohler, president and CEO of CARE. “With everything Special Olympics does for people with developmental disabilities, ultimately we empower our athletes, enabling staff and volunteers to implement programs with them. Our partnership with Butler University and the College of Education gives us legitimacy in our diversity and inclusion efforts to ensure our athletes have leadership roles within our great organization.

Autonomous leaders

When COE first approached Special Olympics Indiana looking for ways to connect, the timing was perfect: CARE was also looking for connections.

Serving more than 18,000 athletes and unified partners across Indiana, SOIN provides year-round athletic training and athletic competition in Olympic-type sports for children and adults with developmental disabilities. But their work goes far beyond games, including a biannual weekend workshop called Athlete Leadership University (ALU) that empowers athletes to take on meaningful leadership roles and build inclusive communities. The program provides participants with a college-like experience, allowing them to choose majors, enroll in courses, complete internships, and graduate.

ALU started in 2003, but around the time Butler asked how he could support CARE’s mission, the event needed a new home, ideally at a university.

“We jumped at the chance to start hosting,” says Garriott. The workshop has been held in Butler since 2017.

While ALU classes are primarily developed by CARE, Bulldogs from across campus come together to help plan and promote the event, prepare campus spaces, teach classes, and recruit volunteers. Garriott includes ALU support as a central aspect of its special education classes each semester, inviting students in the introductory class to help throughout the weekend while those in the cornerstone are part of the team. workshop management.

“Being part of ALU has been an amazing experience,” says Abbie O’Connell, a junior elementary education major with diverse learners and special education – light intervention minors. “I have truly enjoyed being able to interact with those who are part of Special Olympics Indiana and working alongside my classmates to achieve the goal of providing an impactful weekend for attendees.”

In addition to helping plan the fall 2021 event, O’Connell worked closely with athletes in ALU’s communications major, listening to their pitches and providing constructive feedback. She says the experience has taught her that “the smallest interaction can make someone’s day so much better.”

Over the years, the COE has also helped redesign some courses to provide more opportunities for Butler students who want to get involved and for students and athletes to spend more time together. In an ALU Health & Fitness class, Butler students in an adaptive physical education class serve as instructors, sharing what they’ve learned in their own classes while earning credit for their final projects. During ALU’s Fall 2021 semester, a panel on Disability Health Care Experiences was organized and moderated by COE students, attended by students from Butler’s Pharmacy.

“Empowerment is at the heart of our athlete leadership initiative,” says Mohler. “Our partnership with Butler has helped us take it to the next level.”

Inclusion in the field

Butler’s collaboration with SOIN goes beyond those two weekends a year, often including shared service projects or social events. And since the relationship began in 2017, a Butler Physical Wellbeing (PWB) class invites one Special Olympics athlete to participate each semester.

“That idea of ​​’time on a basketball court’ really stuck with us,” Garriott says.

Professors in Butler’s Health Sciences and Human Movement Education Program, including Drs. Fritz Ettl, Lisa Farley and Mindy Welch have been integral to the development and growth of the program. Since the initiative began, Butler has hosted six athletes on four tracks: running, weightlifting, soccer and basketball.

Last fall, a CARE athlete named Emily, who has Down syndrome, joined a basketball class at the Health and Recreation Complex. The course was taught by JJ DeBrosse ’95, Butler Director of Graduate and Professional Recruitment, with Garriott co-teaching the inclusion component. DeBrosse believes the ability for students to interact with people they wouldn’t otherwise encounter helps them develop greater emotional intelligence.

“Having Emily in our class has been an amazing opportunity to watch young people learn and grow,” he says. “She brought an infectious energy and positivity that everyone thrives on. The class took to her pretty quickly and they treat her the same way they treat each other.

While DeBrosse was initially nervous about placing Emily in a live game situation alongside very strong and competitive classmates, he says she and Butler’s students immediately adapted.

“Right away they recognized that Emily was on the floor and got to work placing her in the most advantageous spot. By that I don’t mean the safest (there really isn’t no safe place on a basketball court), but where she could be most useful to her team,” DeBrosse said. “Emily is smaller than most of my students, but strong enough to shoot from anywhere. where on the floor. Her teammates have consistently given her the ball in positions where she can score in attack. In defense, they have helped her identify the player she is guarding. She has been pushed around and knocked down, like all students, but she gets up quickly and goes right back into the action.

John McGuire, a junior finance student, says he also started the semester with some hesitation due to his minimal experience interacting with people with disabilities. But after making an effort to support and spend time with Emily, he says, “she shattered my assumptions.”

“It was very cool to see Emily doing her best in every exercise we did,” he says. “Her competitive spirit is admirable and she never doubts herself while doing anything. When I shoot with Emily during our warm-ups, I laugh every time because it always looks like she has my number. Every Whenever I miss a shot, she lets me hear it, and when she misses, I hear it even louder from her.

McGuire says participating in the class alongside Emily taught her that disability inclusion benefits everyone.

“It’s for the good of the whole class to share these experiences,” he says. “Emily impacted me a lot more than I could ever have. Regardless of what people in the class learned about basketball, I think we all learned more about life and how to treat others, which is 1,000 times more important.

This kind of takeaway on the power of empathy and the importance of access is exactly what Garriott hopes for.

“I can’t help but think that spending a few hours every week with Emily, seeing how hard she tries and how much fun she has – it all really softens the heart and helps people see how much it important that we build spaces that are inclusive of all kinds of people,” she says. “We create space for athletes to feel important and seen, and for our students to help them feel that way.”

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
Senior Content Manager
[email protected]

Butler’s ties to Special Olympics go beyond the College of Education. Click here to learn more about Butler Ambassadors for Special Olympics (BASO), a student organization that raises funds for the cause and raises awareness of the power of inclusion. Then read the story of a former Butler who got involved with Special Olympics in every way she could.

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