HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Waialua Elementary School is the first Hawaii elementary school recognized by Special Olympics as a Unified Champion School for how it provides inclusive sports and activities.
Special education teacher Kimi Kawachi started the program in 2012 with only two students. Now the whole school is involved.
“It’s not just about playing sports. Every club is inclusive. Every activity on campus is inclusive. We include everybody across the school,” she said.
Being a Unified Champion School means Waialua includes children with and without disabilities on combined teams, breaking down barriers.
"I get to work in teams that will include me in and not just leave me on the side," fifth-grader Zoey Woods said.
Ocean Blas has played on Waialua's unified Special Olympics teams for three years.
"I wanted to make friends and do some sports. Special Olympics helped me do that," he said.
Waialua participates in Special Olympics area games and state games. The school also made ESPN’s Special Olympics honor roll.
This year 75 kids are playing basketball and softball.
“Other people with and without disabilities have a chance to be a normal kid,” two-sport student Kamalei Hill said.
Kawachi oversees the school's Special Olympics Academy. She said inclusion counters bullying.
"We have a very simple philosophy here at Waialua. It's just, 'Try to get better every year,'" she said.
Word has gotten out.
Other elementary schools want Waialua’s help them start their own Special Olympics programs.