Being a teenager is hard enough. Homework and social life can be a struggle. Those issues are more difficult for teens with special needs.
That’s why students at Westlake High School have Project Support, a club dedicated to connecting students with special needs to the community around them.
“It’s difficult for students we work with to participate in clubs after school,” said Intervention Specialist Rachel Kane. “We saw a need and decided to form a group that allowed students with significant disabilities to participate in age-appropriate social activities in a safe environment.”
The club was formed by Kane and Intervention Specialist Katie McGlynn and pairs these students with peers from their school to help them socialize and form long-lasting friendships.
“The goal of the club is to create friendships that will last outside of the classroom,” Kane said. “Our thought process was that you make the most of your friendships in high school. That can be hard for a student with special needs and we wanted to create a way that they could still have that ability to do so.”
The group plans one after-school activity a month, including football games, going to see musicals and school dances. The group has gone to see the high school’s theater production of “Oklahoma!” and hosted the school’s Halloween Fun Night.
The group has 25 total peers and students with special needs who regularly go to events after school. Students who participate can earn credits or service hours.
“I joined because it was the right thing to do,” said senior Julia Morales, 17 who will study special education at Kent State University because of this program. “It’s important because these kids don’t necessarily get kids their age to talk to. They need that bond and to get out of the house to hang out.”
The club is part of a class that helps students with moderate to intensive needs prepare for social life after high school. The class regularly volunteers at work sites and restaurants like the Winking Lizard.
The two women got the idea to form the club in 2017 after hosting a Halloween party for the students. A parent approached McGlynn and thanked her for having an inclusiveness club at the school, McGlynn said.
“We didn’t consider what we were doing a club at the time,” she said. “A lightbulb just went off in my head and I thought to myself: ‘We should actually start one of those clubs here!’”
While it seems like a simple act to hang out with these students after school, the effects are long lasting.
“It makes me feel happy,” said junior Jacob Blood, one of the students with special needs in the club.
The Westlake school board recognized Kane and McGlynn for their work with the club. Both received Staff Excellence awards for Excellence in Teaching. Their names will be etched on a plaque that will hang in the school board’s office.
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