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BMS 1 of 2 middle schools in South Carolina recognized as Unified Banner School

Published Thursday, April 26, 2018

Photo from Berkeley Middle School unified banner presentation

BMS students react to the news of the Unified Champion School recognition. (BCSD photo) MORE PHOTOS

If there is one thing everyone should know about Berkeley Middle School, it’s that students, teachers and administrators work hard on an environment that encourages inclusion and acceptance.

Those at the school attribute the culture found on campus to unified physical education, music and art programs offered to students. From students rushing the stage to help a struggling peer during a talent show, to BMS students being invited to speak a Statehouse rally to end the “r-word” – there’s plenty of evidence to support that big, positive things are happening.

Thursday afternoon, BMS was recognized for work to promote and grow that positive environment.

Speaking to a gymnasium with packed bleachers and teachers lining the walls, Special Olympics of South Carolina President/CEO Barry Coats announced BMS was one of a select few Unified Champion Banner schools.

Coats said the recognition, accompanied by a banner presentation, is important to the Special Olympics organization. He described the work BMS has done throughout the year as “huge.”

“We have close to 300 Unified Champion schools across the state. We have 14 Unified Champion Banner schools – only two of which are middle schools,” Coats said. “It’s a pretty big honor when you consider out of 300 schools, you have two middle schools, and this (BMS) is one of them.”

Unified Champion Schools are selected based on how sports, leadership and related activities are used to promote an environment of collaboration between general education students and students with special needs. Berkeley Middle School currently has unified physical education, music and art programs which do exactly what those with the Special Olympics want to see. The children involved -- love it.

“The kids get it. It’s not a big deal for them, because it’s natural for them. They get in there, and they have fun. …They just get in there and have fun and treat them like the rest of the students, and that’s what we want,” Coats said.

Seventh-grader Kaylin Driggers produced a video showcasing the unified programs at BMS that was shown at the event Thursday. She said it took her several weeks to finish, but it was worth it. She admitted she wasn’t sure about her decision to become involved in the unified programs at first. Now, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“Whenever I come in here every day, it makes me happier. If I’m having a bad day, whenever I come in here, it all just changes,” she said. “…I’ve built so many friendships."

BMS Principal Mike Wilkerson said some of his teachers approached him about unified programs a few years ago. With support, the programs have now grown into what was celebrated in the school’s gym – a life-changing experience for participating general education students and students with special needs.

“It’s extremely rewarding. It’s truly a team effort. “It’s a good, positive recognition for our hard-working students and staff,” he said.

Brian Troutman