Mike Newstead: A Catalyst for Inclusion and Inspiration

Meet Mike Newstead, a passionate educator and advocate for inclusive education and Special Olympics. With a career spanning from his roots in Amherstview, Ontario, to his current role at Napanee District Secondary School, Mike has been on a transformative journey that goes beyond traditional teaching. His story is one of dedication, resilience, and a commitment to creating opportunities for individuals with exceptionalities.

A Message from Mike:

Growing up in Amherstview, Ontario, a small suburb 10 minutes west of Kingston, my experience relating to Special Olympics or students/athletes with exceptionalities was limited. Even when I attended Frontenac Secondary School in Kingston or during my time attending University of Guelph, I still had limited opportunities or was unfamiliar with the Special Olympics organization and individuals with exceptionalities.

In February 2004, I graduated from the University of Guelph and moved back to Kingston, since I would be attending Queen’s University in September 2004 to complete my Bachelor of Education. Since I would not be starting until September, I started looking for job opportunities in the Kingston area.

My experience in special education started when I applied to work for Community Living Kingston in their Options Program (day supports for adults with exceptionalities). At the time, I had absolutely no experience in the area but I told the interview panel I would work hard to learn all the skills so that clients would be properly supported.

I believe this experience changed my perspective and opened my eyes to various possibilities relating to education. I learned that the individuals with various exceptionalities were no different than you and I and should be offered the same experiences as everyone else.

After completing my teaching degree from Queen’s University, I was trying to decide where I wanted to work. My brother Steve, at the time, was an Automotive technology teacher at Napanee District Secondary School and recommended that I apply to be a School to Community Teacher (work with students with various exceptionalities) for the Limestone District School Board in Kingston. I didn’t know what this area would entail, but thought that it would be an exciting opportunity.

I started teaching in the School to Community Program in September 2005 and shortly after started getting involved with Special Olympics sports in the high school. When I was first hired, Special Olympics sports in schools were limited to a soccer tournament called 4-corners, but over the years continued to grow.

At Napanee District Secondary School, the current school I have taught at since September 2013, we now compete in the following Special Olympics sporting events annually: soccer, basketball, bocce, floor hockey/floorball, and track and field. Participating in the various Special Olympics events throughout the year allows individual athletes to improve in the following ways: how to work as a team, how to effectively communicate with one another, allows them to build confidence, and show good sportsmanship skills when facing opponents.

Since being at Napanee District Secondary School, we have been very fortunate to have many success stories. We have competed in the following events at the provincial level: track and field, soccer, basketball, bocce and floor hockey. Over the years, we have won multiple track and field medals, 3 provincial gold medals in soccer, 1 provincial gold medal in basketball, 2 silver medals in bocce and 2 provincial silvers in floor hockey.

Beyond all of the above accomplishments, we have sent athletes to try out multiple times to the Toronto FC training facility and had 2 of our athletes (Jordan Bartraw and Paige Fox) make the team. I also recently had one of my athletes (Riley Bird-Lyman) on my gold medal soccer team win provincial silver at OFSAA Track and Field in the event of 100m. I nominated him for athlete of the year so that he would be recognized for all of his hard work and dedication. Not only did he win the award, but I took him to the award ceremony in Fall 2023, so he could receive his award.

Beyond school, I have participated as a coach for Special Olympic swimming, bowling and golf. It is important to get involved in Special Olympics sports when in high school, but is even more important to stay involved. This is often a way for athletes to stay in contact with many friends. In addition, I am part of the Lennox and Addington Special Olympics board of directors. My suggestion is the reason an advisory committee was started this year that involves educators across the province with Special Olympics staff.

I have enjoyed my experiences over the years with exceptional athletes and plan to advocate for these individuals well into the future. Special Olympics sports offer so many benefits and I will continue to push for increased opportunities for these individuals. Athletes with exceptionalities should not just be competing in the various Special Olympics events but should also be part of deciding how competition should evolve moving forward. Should we consider incorporating new sports and get rid of other ones, should we change rules, and how do we effectively offer both traditional and unified sport in a way that holds up the ideals of Special Olympics?

The only way I have been able to spend as much time as I have with my Special Olympic athletes is with the help of my NDSS team of teachers and educational assistants. When our students have qualified for provincial tournaments, our team has given up their own personal time with family to support our athletes in these great opportunities.

I would also like to thank my family that has been very supportive throughout my career as a teacher. My wife, Kathy Newstead, will always help out if I had to take students away to various functions since many of these events were overnight.

I was lucky enough in June 2023, since the Provincial Tournament was hosted by Queen’s University in Kingston to have my whole family involved. My wife and father-in-law were both involved in the opening ceremonies and my kids, Mia Newstead (13 years old) and Ana Newstead (10 years old) were there when our team won our 3rd gold medal in soccer.

I want to be an inspiration to the next generation of what is possible. I have taught my children from a young age that everyone needs to be treated with respect and to not judge someone by the way they look. I’m very lucky to work with exceptional students and feel like they are always teaching me new things.