Whitney High School coach practices inclusion
Whitney High School’s Nicholas French is a counselor, coach and teacher.
Now in his sixth year at the Rocklin school, French has taught for 17 years, 16 of those years in special education.
Although recruited from Fresno’s Hoover High School to be the head varsity basketball coach at Whitney, his biggest impact on campus might be his inclusion of special needs students in physical education and advocacy for Unified Sports.
Besides coaching, French is a counselor in the campus Learning Center and the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) college readiness program.
“I’ve been involved my entire career with the Northern California Special Olympics,” French said. “Unified Sports is a branch of Special Olympics. When I came here, I saw a huge need for some sort of program that would benefit the general education students and special education students. Our kids are amazing in their response and support for all students.”
French said the reception for including special needs students at Whitney has been “amazing.”
The school recently hosted the Unified Sports Spooktacular soccer tournament for the third year.
“The Spooktacular soccer tournament is a great event,” French said. “We hosted 10 schools from around the area. It was great to bring the community together. It was a lot of fun and that’s the point. The kids get to have a day where they don’t have to worry about anything but smiling and having fun.”
Participation in Special Olympics makes a difference, according to French.
“Special Olympics is one of the best days of the year for special education students,” French said. “They compete, they get recognition and they get that moment in the spotlight like all the other high school student-athletes.
“The coolest part of Unified Sports is bringing the same experience to special education students that other students have in sports,” French added. “The students understand it is a big deal and that not everyone gets that moment to themselves. The coolest thing is to see their faces at that moment.”
Kevin Finnegan, 16, is a sophomore and in the Unified Sports class.
“I enjoy this class, it’s fun,” Finnegan said. “You can run and do sports.”
Senior Kate Hilton, 17, is a peer leader in the class.
“I help out the kids and make sure they’re doing what they are supposed to, staying on track and having fun,” Hilton said. “I like working with the special needs kids. It’s rewarding to watch them develop and I have special needs people in my family.”
“I definitely would recommend being a peer leader. This class always puts a smile on my face,” Hilton said.