Bridging the Gap Between the Special Needs Community and the Mainstream Student Population
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Normal Community West High School has the largest population of special needs and disabled students in the Unit 5 school district. These students are set on different bell schedules and placed in classes specialized to their needs and skill levels. Because of this, they are with the same classmates most of their high school careers. This system is designed to give these students specialized care and education so they have the best chance of success.
There are some things that can be better learned outside the classroom. These things involve socialization, friendship, trust, and real world experiences. At Normal West High School they offer a class called Unified PE. In this class special needs students are paired with other students who help them stay on track and learn new skills. This is the only class that incorporates special needs students with the mainstream student population. Though Normal West also has Best Buddies, this program (as well as the class) is not enough. Best Buddies meets only after school and their to no accountability for those students who do not show up. Many students who want to be apart Best Buddies can not because they have other commitments outside of school or simply do not have the necessary transportation. Our goal is to bring the experiences that these programs give to more students.
We want to start a program that will introduce special needs students and the average student to each other. This program would take place during homerooms, where no time would be taken away from learning in the classroom. Special needs students would be apart of these homerooms where they and the mainstreamed students can meet, interact, and learn from each other, bridging the gap between these two groups of students.
Most students at Normal West do not know these special needs students’ names, or that they even exist. One of the biggest problems in the special needs community is ignorance and misinformation of who they are as people. By interacting and introducing these students to each other, they begin to learn and understand each other. According to the American Institute for Learning and Human Development, “Students with special needs can humanize any educational environment by sending a message to students that we all need to pitch in to help each other out in life”. This will teach the average student empathy, patience, understanding, and humanity.
What we are trying to do is help these highschool students learn things that the classroom can not. A former student in Unified PE said that “This program changed my life. I watched these students grow everyday and I saw myself grow with them.” We hope to spread what this student, and others, have learned. Our differences should not keep us apart, they should bring us together.
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