Johnston students receive training on working with special education students

Peer Training3JOHNSTON, Ia. (Aug. 10, 2022) — Nineteen Johnston middle school and high school students came together today to learn about working with special education students in advance of the 2022-23 school year.

Participants included Hannah Erickson, Chloe Drewry, Lucas Haney, Avery Kennedly, Taylor Westendorf, Paityn Ahrens, Madison Sanders, Elise Lambert, Addy Koch, Fred Menr, Sidney Peterson, Sydney Cracraft, Juliette Novak-Clough, Luci White, Maggie Miner, Lily Henderson, Kennedy Godfredsen, Bethany Noelle and Ava Morgan.

The students plan to serve as peers in school activities with special education students including working as classroom volunteers and being a part of Best Buddies, Peer PE, Sparkle Cheer and Peer Art. 

In preparation, Alissa Underfer, a special education teacher, worked with students to share information about specific disabilities.  Students participated in simulated activities where they had a physical or visual disability.  They said they found the experience to be valuable and now have a greater understanding of the many challenges that students with special needs face daily. Peer Training4

“I found it really interesting, getting to see how some of our special ed students go about their day. It helps me to see the school through their eyes,” student Luci White said.

“I appreciated the opportunity to experience what it was like to have a disability. We were given the time and the space to explore challenges that our peers might experience,” student Ava Morgan said.

“Doing the disability stations was very eye-opening and gave us a small glimpse of what life is like for special needs individuals,” said Hannah Erickson and Chloe Drewry. “This experience gives us insight into what life is like for these people and how we can better interact with them.”

Students Addy Koch and Elise Lambert said there’s a lot of assistive technology at Johnston High School but there’s always room for improvement. 

Peer Training2“When we did one of our activities to demonstrate the hardships of having a disability, we noticed a lot of things that were labeled as special-needs friendly that, in actuality, were not fully accessible for someone with a disability,” they said. “For example, there’s not automatic doors or enough room in stalls for wheelchair users. We’ve come a long way from the past, but doing this activity really opened our eyes and we know for a fact that we will definitely continue advocating for those who can’t always advocate for themselves.”

A sensory path is under construction at Johnston High School in the second courtyard and students were encouraged to help with the construction. The path is projected to take two years to complete and will include Art Club, Peer PE, Peer Art, Best Buddies and Sparkle Cheer team members as leadership for this project. Organizers hope to include more JHS clubs in making the path a reality.