On Friday, Rio Rancho Elementary faculty and students celebrated the school’s recent listing as one of ESPN’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools for 2022.
It was the only elementary school on the list.
Rio Rancho Elementary was recognized for its inclusivity measures pertaining to school sports that includes all learners including those with intellectual disabilities.
One of the people at Rio Rancho Elementary to celebrate the day was Sen. Martin Heinrich.
“I’m here today because what you’re doing is super cool,” Heinrich told a group of Rio Rancho Elementary students. “You know why it’s cool? Say it again: ‘everyone’s included.’”
The group of Rio Rancho Elementary kindergarteners, first, fourth and fifth graders repeated what Heinrich said.
“You’re leading the country in unified sports, and the fact that they’re the only elementary school on this list that ESPN and Special Olympics is honoring, that’s really cool. And I thought it would be important to come here today and say keep up the great work, keep including everyone, and we’re very proud of you,” Heinrich said.
Heinrich then presented an American flag to the school that flew over the Capitol in the school’s honor when it was first named a Special Olympics Unified Champion School last fall.
“Now you’ll be able to fly this flag that was over the Capitol, over your school and take pride in being a Roadrunner,” Heinrich said, referencing the school’s mascot.
Heinrich was not back on New Mexico soil just for the Rio Rancho Elementary presentation, he was on a short tour on Friday that began at Wilson Middle School in Albuquerque where he touted legislation to make free school meals available for all students and to create more hands-on learning activities in schools’ outdoor spaces with the Living Schoolyards Act.
Heinrich said that the idea behind the legislation for universal school meals nationwide was one of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We learned that we could actually just provide kids a meal and for the entire country at the time,” Heinrich said. “What we didn’t do is keep doing that after COVID. And what we figured out is that schools that are doing that are seeing real improvements in test scores.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, is the lead sponsor of the universal school meals bill. Hienich is a cosponsor along with 15 other cosponsors, including Sen. Kirsten GIllibrand, D-New York.
The New Mexico Legislature passed SB 4 which provides free, healthy school lunches for all students.
“Universal free breakfast and lunch will take the focus off of our student’s stomachs and place it in their studies, where it belongs. I’m pleased to see Senator Heinrich taking our successful state effort to the federal level,” state Sen. Michael Padilla, the lead sponsor of the New Mexico bill, said in a statement earlier this month when the senators announced the legislation.
The bill passed both houses unanimously and was signed into law on March 24.
The other bill Heinrich spoke about was the Living Schoolyards Act.
“Every child in New Mexico deserves an outdoor space that allows them to learn, play, and grow. For many kids, the closest outdoor space is not a national or urban park, but the spaces right outside their classroom doors,” Heinrich said in a news release. “With the Living Schoolyards Act, we have an opportunity to reimagine and remake our schools into healthier and greener spaces that introduce more kids to new experiences on their journey to academic success.”
The Living Schoolyards Act would establish an Outdoor Learning Spaces Grants program through the U.S. Department of Education to help schools and school districts make outdoor classrooms and learning spaces. The funds from the grants would be able to be used for planting trees, installing canopies, electricity, generators, furniture, Wi-Fi nodes and charging areas and outdoor food and distribution facilities.
Heinrich is the lone sponsor of that bill.