Morse High School in Bath has implemented an innovative Unified program that enables students to form valuable friendships where everyone is accepted and appreciated. Morse’s robust Unified program, initiated by four teachers, has transformed the learning atmosphere of Morse, creating a sense of community that extends beyond the classroom’s boundaries.

Since 2017, when Charlie Bingham introduced a Unified Physical Education and Sports program at Morse High School, the students, staff, and community have enthusiastically embraced the program. They say it has transformed their community into one where all students are included and welcome. The school has since expanded the principles of Unified programming to academic subjects such as science and literacy, with a goal of adding additional subject areas every few years.

It’s changed my life, and it has changed our school…It allows you to see the good in people.

Charlie Bingham
Physical Education Teacher


Photo Credit: Dawn Lee

In March, over 30 educators from across Maine attended Morse’s first Unified Conference, where students, parents, teachers, and administrators shared their enthusiasm for the program’s success. Bingham and his colleagues, Dawn Lee, Jonathan Fisk, and Julie LaRosa, organized a day-long conference to encourage educators from throughout Maine to implement similar programs at their schools. “It’s changed my life, and it has changed our school,” said Bingham when describing Unified Programming. “It allows you to see the good in people.”

According to Ian Frank, Executive Director of Special Olympics Maine, 130 K-12 schools in Maine currently incorporate one or more Unified Champion principles. Morse is among the 14 schools in Maine recognized as a National Unified Champion School for meeting the 10 Standards of Excellence set by Special Olympics. Frank says what a Unified Champion School ® “looks like” may differ from school to school based on school needs. This year, Special Olympics recognized five Maine schools as National Unified Champion Schools®: Hampden Academy, Kennebunk High School, Scarborough High School, Scarborough Middle School, and Thornton Academy.

What distinguishes Morse from other programs is the addition of Unified Academics classes. Similar to the well-known Unified Sports and Physical Education programs, Unified Academics matches students with and without intellectual disabilities as learning partners. Librarian Dawn Lee says all students benefit from this model. “I can’t think of a better way to build community,” said Lee.


Photo Credit: Dawn Lee

Lee and special education teacher Jonathan Fisk work together to teach Unified Literacy. In 2021, they started discussing ways Fisk’s Functional Life Skills students could benefit from utilizing the library during literacy time. After some thought, they decided to pitch their principal, Eric Varney, the idea for a new course, Unified Literacy. With the support of Varney and the School Board, the first students enrolled in Unified Literacy in spring 2021.

We don’t focus on what our students can’t do, we focus on what they can do, and we set high expectations for all of our students.

Johnathan Fisk
Special Education Teacher


Photo Credit: Dawn Lee

Unified Literacy uses reading buddies, art, field trips, and board games to build relationships through meaningful inclusion while strengthening literacy skills. “We don’t focus on what our students can’t do; we focus on what they can do, and we set high expectations for all of our students,” Fisk said. Morse students enthusiastically embraced the program, with the number of participants doubling in the first year from 12 to 24, and now with a waitlist of over 30. Students who have taken the class once often choose to enroll again, and many students also enroll in other Unified course offerings like the newly implemented Science course.

This year, Morse science teacher Julie LaRosa approached Fisk to co-teach a Unified Science class. LaRosa says witnessing her students become what she calls science mentors has given her a fresh perspective. LaRosa developed the Unified Science curriculum to cover the Next Generation Science Standards. Her science mentors work alongside science students to provide students with hands-on, project-based learning opportunities.

Unified brings us all together. You can see it when we are out in the community with our kids; they have a new sense of belonging.

Unified Parent

Morse’s Unified students’ positive experiences and strong bonds have led to strong friendships that extend beyond the school. Parents reported a renewed sense of belonging within the community, with their children developing friendships that also translate outside of school. “Noah has formed friendships with students in school that have carried into the community,” one parent explains. “Unified brings us all together. You can see it when we are out in the community with our kids; they have a new sense of belonging,” another parent added.

If you’re interested in bringing Unified academics to your school, Bingham, Lee, Fisk, and LaRosa say the most important step is starting the conversation with colleagues. Fisk recalls the simple conversation with Lee that sparked the development of Unified Literacy. “This all started with a conversation with Dawn (Lee) about my students reading on the comfy couches in the library,” said Fisk. According to them, communication has been the key to their success. In the end, Bingham says, “This will make you a better teacher and a better person.”

To learn more about Morse’s Unified Program, visit their website:


A “Champion” Unified Champion Schools® School combines three components: unified sports, inclusive youth leadership/advocacy, and whole school engagement. (cite

Impact of Unified Schools Programming: (From Special Olympics Maine)


      • 82% of students felt that they were able to change their schools for the better

      • 71% of students without intellectual disabilities remained in contact with students that have disabilities who they met through their school programming after graduation.

      • Positive Relationship between school connectedness and attendance

      • 86% of School Liaisons said that unified programming helped to reduce bullying in their schools