“Seeing the World Differently”: High School Students Mentor Academy Students
Five teens from local high schools have assisted in Academy classrooms this summer. “With most of our students attending summer school, we needed some help in the classrooms,” said Eric Spencer, Principal. “We have a good relationship with Notre Dame High School here in Fairfield and they promoted the internship opportunity.” Three students were accepted, as well as two others from Ansonia and Masuk High Schools. (Pictured L-R: Michael Pinedo, Kylee Faulkner, Kayla Thelwell, Kaylee Daniele, Lucas Crowell)
As “typical peers,” the interns have been modeling appropriate behavior and conversation. “It’s been great for Vinny, interacting with someone his own age,” said his teacher, Jim Winebrenner. “Michael’s been a great role model.”
The high school students, all of whom will be seniors in the fall, have gained valuable work experience. They have also learned about the challenges and joys of having a disability, and how to accept others who are different from themselves.
Anna and one of the interns, Kaylee, both enjoy music and drama. “It was fun to watch them converse,” said Amanda Stote, a teacher who joined the Academy summer staff again this year. “I can see how the connection is helping to build Anna’s confidence.” Amanda added that, after playing basketball and other sports with the student interns, Philip and Fabricio have both been more motivated to follow the rules.
The students have all reported a positive experience. Michael said one of his favorite moments was when Vinny, Philip, and Fabricio hugged and said how much they cared about each other. “It warmed my heart… This is a fun program… that these kids can grow in a community together.”
Kayla, whose mother Natalie works in the Adult Program, noted that “each student is remarkable in their own way,” and that the experience at Saint Catherine has led her to understand the importance of individuals with disabilities having the same opportunities as others.
Lucas and Kaylee felt similarly. “Being at the Academy has helped me see the world a bit differently,” Kaylee said. “To understand that not everyone can learn or understand at the same pace, but everyone… has empathy and much to give to others.”
Kylee, another intern, worked as a volunteer at the Academy a previous summer. Based on her experience, she has decided she would like to work in special education. “She was able to switch gears easily and meet the needs of my students,” said Joanne LaPorta. “She’s a natural.”
“The people here are all so kind,” Kylee added. “Through the group activities I have come to know and adore all of the students.”
“The interns have been great with our students,” said Spencer. “They are kind and caring. I hope to continue this program in the future.”