Monday, February 19, 2018
Education

Student peers gain perspective while helping classmates with disabilities

Pasco County's recent Showcase for Exceptional Talent gave the stage to many students with intellectual disabilities who often don't have the spotlight shining on them.

"They don't always get to go out in the community and do these types of things," organizer Heather Farnsworth, a Wesley Chapel High School behavioral specialist, observed. "We try to get our kids together and do something great for them, something they love doing."

Many teachers supported these children as they celebrated their possibilities, rather than their disabilities. So, too, did other kids.

"We're just friends helping them," said Alex Biddle, 14, an eighth-grader in John Long Middle School's peer assistance program.

She and others spend a class period daily helping students with disabilities. Last week, Alex and other peers helped guide their less-abled classmates through the dance moves they learned to the Village People's YMCA.

"We don't do it to get out of class," said fellow eighth-grade peer Chase Oliver, 14. "We have the best bond with them. We actually get to play with them."

The class practiced together in the cafeteria for several weeks. There was no time to get nervous about it.

"It's just getting the kids to know it and just having fun," Alex said. "No pressure."

Teachers lauded the effort, saying it creates bridges among students and helps instill better understanding of people with differences.

Alex said she signed up for the peer class because she enjoys helping others, and she can tell how much the students appreciate the effort.

The work, which also includes accompanying the class to the Special Olympics, has prompted Chase to think about the possibilities of becoming a special education teacher (although he acknowledged it's really too early for him decide).

"I want to keep going," he said. "It's been a really fun experience."

• • •

Leaders from Pasco-Hernando State College and the Pasco and Hernando school boards gathered late last week to discuss ways they can better collaborate.

Dual enrollment and workforce development remained key issues for the group for the third consecutive year. But they focused on new areas as well.

Topping the list was creating a collegiate high school, which lawmakers recently required.

Officials admitted they have more questions than answers at this point, noting that they don't know what type of curriculum focus such a school would have, much less its location or its cost.

But they pledged to keep meeting to make it happen. Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning advised the group to bring students to future conversations.

Pasco district officials also have talked informally with leaders at Saint Leo University about the possibilities of a joint collegiate high school.

Have ideas for us to consider? Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614.

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