• Dr. Herpy

‘BE THE CHANGE’: Kenston students serve as peers for classmates with special needs

“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” is one of Kenston High School special education teacher Amanda Englehart’s favorite slogans.

“I always preach, they are the change,” said Ms. Englehart, who has taught special education at Kenston for nine years. “They are changing the world, one student at a time.”

She referred to the typical students who work with the students with special needs. Ms. Englehart created a curriculum for a semester-long class that puts typical-learning students together with students with special needs.  Ms. Englehart wrote the curriculum for the elective course and it is unique to Kenston High School.

Typical students help the special-education students in their classwork and provide positive role models. And they take part in activities to learn about those with special needs, she said. The typical students can focus on independent projects as well in which they learn about special needs.

“They learn the background information to help relate to my students, and they learn about acceptance in general,” Ms. Englehart said. “This is going to be with them their entire life. Learning to be compassionate and accepting is the key to success. If you are giving back, you are succeeding.”

Typical students, who are juniors and seniors, serve as peers and role models to those with special needs, and they are enthusiastic about working with and helping those students, she said. She teaches math, English, science and social studies to those with special needs.

Four years ago, she launched the Creating Exceptional Character club when some students wanted to learn more about special education, she said.  Some students get involved by word of mouth or are motivated by a desire to help others. Many have gone on to pursue careers working with people with disabilities, according to Ms. Englehart.

“These are great kids working with my students,” she said. A good example, she noted, is senior Cooper Nash who serves as a peer to her special education students.

Cooper took Ms. Englehart’s semester-long class and is a club member. Student peers help those with special needs, assisting with homework, being with them at lunch and after school.

“I enjoy working with them,” Cooper said. “They are friends and people I hang out with.”

Cooper and other students also run track with the special needs students. “They take turns and go to practices and meets and they do it all on their own time. They are just there to help,” she said.

The students march together in the homecoming parade, attend the homecoming dance and take part in events such as pumpkin carving. They attend prom as a group. There were about 20 students this year, and they went by limousine, she said.

“We have a holiday gift-giving event and hold a balloon launch in April for autism awareness day,” Ms. Englehart said. “It is all about generating real relationships, and I try to make it a learning experience about accepting each other and building real friendships.  It is all about being a positive peer role model.”

On Saturday, the club held a fundraiser put together by Cooper to cover operating costs of the club and provide scholarships for seniors. His parents, Jim and Elisa Nash, own the Pond skating rink in Auburn, which where the fundraiser was held.

Saturday’s event included a disc jockey Jordan, broomball, which is a hockey type game, an auction and food donated by restaurants.  Cooper said after the event, “We had a blast.”

About $3,000 was raised and he hopes to use those proceeds to purchase computers for the special education classrooms and to help cover club whatever is needed.

He thanked education aides Daryl Major, Kathy Werner, Kinney deHammel and Wallace Sonnie as well as special education teacher Kristen Rudlosky for all their help.

Cooper plans on attending Bowling Green for a year to major in business and possibly a minor in special education. He hopes to go on to Miami of Ohio.

Ms. Englehart said she likes to award scholarships to the typical kids because they have given so much to her students.

“I want them to see that it pays off to give to someone and it will come back,” she said.

She has given two $250 scholarships in the past. She wants to increase the number and size of those scholarships, she said.

“I am very blessed to have students like Cooper who go above and beyond,” Ms. Englehart said.

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