MJ Hippern is a Physical Education and Wellness Teacher at Dover High School. She is also the department’s Academic Coordinator. She pioneered the Unified Wellness Program at Dover High. Unified at Dover now encompasses art, drama and animal sciences as well as sports. She notes that next school year DHS will launch a Unified Social Studies class saying that it was requested by parents and the school’s administrators made it happen.

MJ’s path with SONH precedes DHS going back to her teaching days at Winnicunnet High School in Hampton in the 1990’s. The seeds of Unified were planted at Dover High School in the early 2000’s because of lunch. Hippern says she had a special needs student in one of her freshman PE classes “and no one wanted to be his partner.” In that same class was a student who had just transferred to DHS from a school in Texas. He was a senior but because of differences in standards between the two states he was assigned to the freshman PE class. MJ asked him to partner up with the special needs student and he did.

It was the next day that the magic began. “I looked over in the caf (cafeteria) and there was Luke having lunch with Corey and it was like Corey won a lottery, he was so happy” according to Hippern. She continues “So I was like, why don’t we have a class where the kids are together?”

That lunch was the humble start of organized inclusion at Dover High School.

Unified Champion Schools promotes social inclusion by bringing together young people with and without intellectual disabilities on sports teams (Special Olympics Unified Sports®), through inclusive student clubs and by fostering youth leadership. At its core, this strategy is about unifying all students – with and with-out disabilities – using sports as a catalyst for social inclusion and attitude and behavioral change.

In 2010 Hippern was asked to attend a Unified Conference in Nebraska and following that conference she was instrumental in formalizing Unified Sports in the Granite State. “It really has changed our culture to more of an accepting culture of a variety of differences… or similarities, not just differences” she says.

Several weeks ago, MJ Hippern was officially informed that she had been chosen by the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce as “Educator of the Year” after having been nominated by her peers. Her class was outside and interrupted by a group of people from the chamber along with school officials and her son. Hippern was completely taken by surprise telling SONH “I’m just happy I had my face mask on so people couldn’t see my dumbfounded look.” The actual award ceremony was held Friday, June 4th. In addition to Hippern’ s “Educator of the Year” award the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce recognized former Dover Fire Chief and current Assistant Commissioner of the NH Department of Safety with a Legacy Award for his efforts guiding the state through the Covid-19 pandemic. Long-time Dover resident Matt Mayberry was named “Citizen of the Year” for his numerous community efforts. The “Volunteer of the Year” award went to Deborah Clough for her service to the Dover Solid Waste Advisory Commission.

Photo courtesy of Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce: MJ Hippern with her class and representatives from the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce.