Forest Grove woman brings together students of various learning - KPTV - FOX 12

Forest Grove woman brings together students of various learning abilities

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FOX 12 and Les Schwab Tire Centers are happy to announce this month’s “Be the Change” recipient, Jill Hertel of Forest Grove Unified Sports.

Students with learning disabilities are often separated from their peers in both the classroom and in extracurricular activities.

But Hertel says that is not the best course of action.

Ten years ago, Hertel established Forest Grove Unified Sports, an organization that gives kids with or without disabilities the opportunity to work and play together.

The aim is to encourage the kids to work as a team, regardless of their learning or developmental abilities.

“General ed students definitely see the other side, compassion, tolerance,” said Hertel. “And sometimes you don’t know who gets more out of the experience.”

The program is partially funded by the Special Olympics and has brought thousands of kids together since its inception.

The sports leagues are open to students of all ages from elementary to higher education, which means during any given school year, Hertel is planning events for as many as 250 participants.

For many families, the program has worked its wonders. Karla Myatt said she has noticed a significant difference in her son’s behavior.

“When he was in elementary school, he was the kid who would be running off the field and coming right back on,” said Myatt. “Now that he’s in high school, he has a lot of the ‘play hard, work hard’ attitude in him.”

Hertel says the work is as rewarding, as it is challenging. The skills kids learn in Unified Sports, not only prepare them for friendly competition but also equip them for life.

Some parents believe the program lets other families see their children in a different light.

“This gave my son a place to play where he could run off the court and it was okay and he could get frustrated and upset and it was alright. The learning curve is just a little…not so steep here,” mother Terri Jones said.

Forest Grove Unified Sports depends on volunteers and grants to operate. Learn more at

If you think you know someone who makes a difference and can 'Be the Change' in their community, nominate them at the FOX 12 Be the Change website. We feature one winner each month.

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