SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A Sioux Falls high school is setting an example when it comes to inclusion and is gaining recognition on a national level. The Best Buddies program was pioneered here at Roosevelt High.

A traditional student is paired with a friend. Esda and Cole developed a friendship and are dance partners in show choir. The inclusion isn’t limited to just a few students, and that was evident at a school assembly featuring the unified sports basketball team. School principal Tim Hazlet felt nothing but pride.

“Just a lot of joy. It’s been fun to see that come back. I know we reference that on everything, but it’s not that hard but it was just like, hey, let’s just go out and love each other, have fun, and enjoy people for the humanity that’s in front of you,” said Hazlet.

Down the hall from the gym, we find a different kind of joyous noise. The inclusion at this school hit new highs with the school’s first all-abilities show choir called Unity Inc. This is where Cole and Esda developed their friendship as dance partners.

Unity, Inc. gives students with disabilities a place to sing, dance, socialize, and compete.
It promotes the idea that all students deserve the same opportunities and that all students deserve to have their hard work celebrated! Now it’s led by Augustana University freshman Lily Holtman. A year ago, she was part of this choir.

“Though I’m leading it, I feel like I’m not still, I feel like they are taking it into their own hands and doing it, and that’s what I love to see. I love seeing them succeed; that’s like my reward,” said Holtman.

Cole has certainly succeeded.

“Choir is a great place, all the people show their emotions, and everybody’s having a good time,” said Cole.

“He’s a really outgoing guy. He’s just really nice. He’s really easy to approach.

Tom- If it weren’t for this program, would you know that?

“Honestly, no, I would not know that,” said Esda

Co-Director and founder Robyn Starks Holcomb says other schools around the country are reaching out to get advice on starting their own inclusive sports teams and choirs.

“I think it’s important that every student and every family have that opportunity to perform, have the opportunity to compete if they wish, that those parents have the opportunity to wear a button of their child and go take pictures and have postables and just include all of our culture in those activities,” said Holcomb.

The school’s motto is “We are Roosevelt we are one.” Unity, Inc. received the 2020 United for Inclusion Award for their work as the school’s first all-abilities show choir. Holcomb says the pandemic set them back but they are ready to make their voices heard.

“We are one, and we are going to stand up for each other for life,” said Cole.