Rio Rancho Elementary School held a banner presentation Friday to celebrate the school being honored for meeting national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy and respect by Special Olympics and ESPN.

RRES was one of five schools nationwide to receive the honor — and the only elementary school.

The banner was from Special Olympics Unified Sports, a strategy creating sports, leadership and whole school engagement opportunities for students. The result is a school environment that promotes inclusion and respect for all.

The event featured three assemblies, divided into grade levels, which featured ESPN SportsCenter anchor Randy Scott. Each assembly was followed by a variety of inclusion-based outdoor activities for the students to participate in.

Scott was joined by representatives from Special Olympics New Mexico, Rio Rancho Fire Department, Rio Rancho Police Department, Rio Rancho Mayor’s Office and Rio Rancho Public Schools officials. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich joined in the afternoon assembly.

“I’m here today because what you’re doing is super cool,” Heinrich said. “You’re leading the country in Unified Sports, and the fact that you’re the only elementary school on this list that ESPN and the Special Olympics is honoring, that’s really cool.” He urged the students to keep up the good work and that he was proud of them.

He also had a special gift for the school: an American flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. “Now you will be able to fly this flag that was over the Capitol over your school and take pride in being a Roadrunner,” Heinrich said.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich speaks to an assembly of Rio Rancho Elementary students Friday afternoon. (Tracy Goldizen/Observer)

“I just thought this was a real honor for them that they were the only elementary school to receive this award,” Heinrich said after the assembly. “I just wanted to honor the kids and tell them we’re proud of them. I’m just excited to be a part of it.”

Rio Rancho Elementary School’s Special Olympics Unified Program is making a major impact on the students and families. The school has a total of 45 students each year, with and without intellectual disabilities, who consistently participate in various activities during their after-school club, Roadrunners Unified.

“You are a top five school for inclusion, and the only elementary school in the country,” Scott said during the fourth- and fifth-grade assembly. “Students, faculty, staff and anyone in the school community have lived up to the standards of inclusion and inclusivity.”

He also told the students they were setting an example for people they don’t even know, saying he’s been telling his three children about their school and what they’ve done. “You are already making an impact on kids that live 2,000 miles away.”

A sign behind Scott on stage in the gym reads a pledge: “I pledge to look for the lonely, the isolated, the left out, the challenged and the bullied. I pledge to overcome the fear of difference and replace it with the power of inclusion. I choose to include.”

“You’re going to carry that pledge with you,” Scott said. “You guys are going to take that with you and it’s so important to do that. So we wanted to come here and celebrate you. Thank you for letting me be a part of it.”

RRES wasn’t the only thing that impressed Scott during his visit to New Mexico. Thursday night he tweeted a thread that “restored his faith in humanity” about New Mexico United player Kyle Colonna interacting with an elderly woman on a flight from Denver to Albuquerque.

I’m on a Denver flight to Albuquerque, and the @NewMexicoUTD club is onboard,” Scott tweeted. “Don’t know who this player is, but he spotted an elderly woman as he walked up the aisle. He asked how the graduation was, she exclaimed ‘you remembered!’”

Colonna had sat next to the woman on a flight a few days earlier. He recognized the woman on this flight and switched seats with a teammate so he could sit with her again.

“She was beaming,” Scott tweeted. “They’ve been talking the whole time.”

Editor Tracy Goldizen contributed to this story.