Meet Valerie Ruiz, passionate champion and educational advocate for Special Education students in the Sweetwater Union High School District. For more than 20-years, Ruiz has worn several hats in the Sweetwater District, most recently as a Resource Teacher at East Hills Academy and District Unified Champion Schools Coordinator.
Since her 9th grade year in high school when her father, a Navy veteran took her to volunteer at a special education event, Ruiz knew she wanted to embark on a career working with students with special needs. “I believe what drew me in to working with students with special needs is the advocacy piece,” said Ruiz. “My biggest motivation is doing my best to ensure my students have the same high school experience as the next student.”
Over the past 20 years, Ruiz has worked as a Fundamentals teacher at Montgomery High School, Olympian High School, a Teacher on Special Assignment and coached girls and boys volleyball. Most recently, she organized the Special Olympics Unified Sports National Conference here in the South Bay. More than 500 Special Olympics staff members with an additional 100 educators from Southern California attended the conference.
Unified Sports is an exclusive sports program that unites Special Olympics (students with intellectual disabilities) and athletes (students in the general education population) as teammates for training and competition events.
“When I was organizing the conference, my hope was that we were able to demonstrate the ability to be a Unified School District here in Sweetwater,” said Ruiz. “I hope attendees were inspired to start Unified Sports Leagues at their school sites and that they were able to see first-hand the positive impact inclusion has on students and school culture.” Currently the Sweetwater District has seven active Unified Sports teams that include, Flag Football, Soccer, Basketball, Track and Field, Crossfit, Cheerleading and Fitness Training.
According to Ruiz, Unified Sports is a way for her students to feel a sense of belonging, develop friendships with other students of all intellectual abilities and just about making connections. “Every student with a disability deserves to be involved in extra-curricular activities at school just as much as general population students,” said Ruiz. “I feel grateful every day for the opportunity to do what I do with these amazing students.”
For more information on Unified Sports or for volunteer information contact Valerie Ruiz at email@example.com.