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San Benito High School a champion of inclusion

San Benito High School special educators Paulette Cobb and Casandra Guerrero are presented with the ESPN/Special Olympics award designating SBHS as a Top 5 Unified Champion Banner school for 2021. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

San Benito High School has been a champion for inclusion efforts for the better part of a decade. On April 29, SBHS received national recognition as it received an award from ESPN and the Special Olympics as a Top 5 National Unified Champion Banner School. 

Special Olympics CEO David Solo was at the school’s Academic Rally at Andy Hardin Stadium as the banner was presented in front of the 3,400 student body. For the past four years, San Benito High has been recognized as a Unified Champion School, but the National Banner School and ESPN Top 5 designation are firsts. 

SBHS, which is the only school in Northern California to receive the honors, had to meet 10 national qualifying standards of excellence set by the Special Olympics and the education community. SBHS has been recognized for building a culture of acceptance and inclusion on campus, including Circle of Friends, the renowned inclusive campus club that was created 12 years ago by Casandra Guerrero—the school’s special education program specialist—to promote an environment and culture of inclusion for all students through daily lunch meetings and other activities. 

Circle of Friends and the Gifted Games—an annual event that provides the opportunity for students with disabilities to participate in athletic events in a non-competitive atmosphere—were the forerunners to a school that now has Unified soccer and basketball teams and several gifted sports teams to go along with numerous events.  

San Benito High senior Mia Villegas high-fives Hank the Haybaler during the school’s Academic Rally on April 29. Villegas earned a Top 10 academic honor certificate for her academic excellence. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Emanuel Lee can be reached at elee@weeklys.com