May 14, 2007

Giving Up Recess for Jesus

Contrast the last story with this one.

School kids who were offered a chance to give up recess two days a week to spend time with the autistic kids at their school. A few of them loved it so much they asked to be able to skip recess five days a week.

I should give some sort of Autism in God's Economy award for those delicious little eigth-graders and their yummy teachers.

Were it not for the fact that mentioning Jesus in a public school might get a few people peeved, I would.


8th-graders Help Pupils with Autism
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
By ANDREA ALEXANDER
STAFF WRITER

A group of eighth-grade volunteers at George Washington Middle School in Wayne are teaching their sixth-grade schoolmates a lesson they can learn more easily from peers.

They are teaching them about friendship.

About a dozen eighth-graders volunteered to give up recess to spend time with the autistic students in a sixth-grade life skills class. Some of the students also give up study period to spend time with handicapped students in an adaptive physical education class.

The volunteers, called STARS (Students Teaching and Reaching for Success), were asked to give up time twice a week. But a few -- including Kristen McGuinness and Cameron O'Rourke -- begged life skills teacher Tracy Mara to be allowed to visit five days a week. The pair were so moved by their experiences that they produced a presentation for students and teachers during April for Autism Awareness Month.

Cameron said some of his classmates don't understand why he volunteers. When his friends asked why he gives up recess, he replies, "They are our friends, too."

Kristen said the presentation was important because people in the school "think children with autism are different."

She said she wanted to debunk the myth that the autistic students "shouldn't be treated the same way" as other kids in the school.

On Monday, Cameron and Kristen helped sixth-graders Sung Won DeFries and Juliana Munoz paint wooden butterflies to give as a present on Mother's Day. The volunteers played board games with the students, took them shopping at Willowbrook Mall for the holidays and went ice skating together.

In the winter, a group of volunteers taught children in the autistic class how to have a snowball fight. The volunteers showed the sixth-graders how to make snowballs and how to throw them.

During the holidays, they made a Thanksgiving dinner together in the classroom. Recently, the volunteers took the students to a craft store to buy T-shirts for Field Day and Father's Day presents.

Cameron said the volunteers are working to teach the autistic students the skills they are "going to need to function when they are adults."

George Washington Middle School introduced an autism program this fall to address the students' special needs, said Kathy Ventura, head of the school's counseling department. In past years, autistic students were included in a class for children with multiple disabilities. Three students are in the autistic class, but that number is expected to double next year, Mara said.

Mara, who previously taught disabled students before she took charge of the autistic class this year, started a student volunteer program when she came to the district four years ago.

She said she started the program because "students learn better from their peers than adults."

"They learn to be a kid from a kid," Mara said. "Not adults."

Ventura said the volunteers have witnessed miracles in the class. Kristen said she knew all the time she spent with the class paid off when she heard a student, who never speaks in school, ask for a glass of water.

"It was amazing," she said. "It was more than words can explain."

E-mail: alexandera@northjersey.com


1 comment:

Nell said...

How simple amazing!