Tears of joy well up in Amy Lester’s eyes as she describes a recent scene: A special education student rolled down Senior Hallway and students from the general population offered jovial high-fives, fist bumps, hugs, “how ya doin’s” and “hellos.”
This kind of social acceptance for special needs students hasn’t always been so prevalent.
Lester teaches grades six – 12 special education at Norwalk High School. She teaches life skills like how to read, cook and do laundry, as well as math and some of the more traditional school subjects.
“We teach anything and everything that people do in their daily life to make them as independent as possible (in their) post-high-school (lives).” She adds, “I love my job.”
Lester helped develop the Peer P.E. Program. This program matches students from the general student population as mentors for the special education students, mostly during physical education class.
In the past, the special education students were placed in the standard P.E. classes and, according to Lester, this was often like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The students with special needs were often relegated to standing around and watching or enduring a less-than-optimum experience.
“It just didn’t work for them,” Lester says about physical education for kids with special needs prior to the new program.
The new program allows the special needs students to play games amongst themselves that are designed specifically for them. Other students can volunteer to help the games run more smoothly.
For instance, instead of playing a fast-paced game of volleyball while mixed into the more athletic general population, the special needs students now play volleyball with a puffier, bigger beach ball.
The new model is more accommodating and allows the students to be more interactive and involved in the action.
Just as importantly, the interaction between the students with special needs and the other students has led to a better understanding of one another and has led to the type of scene laid out at the beginning of this story.
Lester is clearly passionate about her work and the program. As she recounts the scene from Senior Hallway, she dabs at her eyes and says that there has been a “complete and total climate change. It’s really neat to see.”
“I’ve taught at three different schools,” Lester says. “And by far we have the best students here.”
Some might say there are some pretty good teachers in Norwalk also.