PEPI students making an impact on youth – Heidi Kreis
Physical Education Peer Instruction, more commonly referred to as PEPI, is a year-long class offered to upperclassmen at Leesville. PEPI students express interest in actively working with elementary-age children in the community. According to the WCPSS PEPI application, students are required to possess responsibility, maturity, patience, leadership and warmth.
While in the class, PEPI members organize innovative lesson plans, in addition to learning the basics of first aid and child care. After the planning for the following week is complete, PEPI students typically visit elementary gym classes in the area, in addition to high school special education classes.
PEPI students work and travel with one or two partners for the entire school year. During lesson planning, the pairs collaborate to create the most efficient, most fun plan for their specific class. PEPI students must consider what each elementary schooler is capable of to ensure safety during the activities.
While the PEPI class usually spends Fridays together, working on lesson plans, the rest of the week is unique to the student.
Katie Calloway, a senior in PEPI, reported her weekly schedule below:
Monday 1-2 p.m.: Low and high functioning high school special needs
Tuesday 1:15-2 p.m.: Hilburn Elementary (Grades 3- 5)
Wednesday 1-2 p.m.: Low and high functioning high school special needs
Thursday 1:15-2 p.m.: Hilburn Elementary (Grades 3-5)
Friday 1-2:18 p.m.: Lesson planning for the following week
After working with the second grade special needs children during her junior year, Calloway requested to work with the same students for her senior year as they transitioned to third grade. “I have a really strong connection with some of my special needs kids,” said Calloway.
While working at a YMCA day camp, Calloway met Zach, an autistic child born with various birth defects. “He has changed my life,” said Calloway. She has since mentored (and played) with Zach at Hilburn Elementary on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The PEPI program is a great platform for those who love kids and wish to extend their reach past babysitting. Ashley Dickerson, a senior PEPI II student, originally applied for the program because she, of course, loved kids.
However, Dickerson also has a younger brother who has autism. By growing up with an autistic brother, Dickerson holds a unique insight into the mind of a special needs student. Working both ways, the special needs students she has met in PEPI also help her understand the needs of her younger brother.
Calloway and Dickerson agree that working with mentally disabled students has been a blessing. The two both expressed how much they truly love their children and will dearly miss them once they graduate. “They have taught me about responsibility and what’s important,” said Dickerson.
After spending a summer away from “her kids,” Erica Hardy, Leesville graduate, visited her special education classes. Hardy worked closely with the high school Special Education program through PEPI, forming close relationships with many of the students.
“They haven’t seen me in 4 months, and they still all remembered me and ran to me, hugging me and yelling my name. It was literally the best feeling ever!!” Hardy said (via text). Hardy loved hearing about what had changed in her students’ lives since she had graduated. “All the same quirks and inside jokes I had with the kids were immediately back like we were never apart,” Hardy explained.
While the PEPI program aids the elementary schools, as well as the special education programs, the program ultimately informs students of their potential impact on students. For some elementary schoolers, the PEPI students are the closest thing they have to a role model, an older sister or brother or supportive friend. This being said, the PEPI program shapes young kids, while also having fun.
Hanging out at the Special Needs Awareness Club – Mariana Herrera
The 2016-2017 school year is only the second year SNAC (Special Needs Awareness Club) has resided at Leesville. Yet it has quickly gained popularity, with 95 students currently a part of the club.
SNAC was founded at LRHS by Isabelle White (class of 2016), who had heard about similar clubs at other schools.
“SNAC is based upon a club called Socialites, begun 10 years ago at Panther Creek High School,” said Christine Killela, the advisor for SNAC. Killela instituted both Socialites and SNAC to “offer typical high school students the opportunity to interact with low incidence special education students… Low incidence students [could] practice their social skills as well as feel part of the general high school community and make new friends,” said Killela.
According to David Curlin, sophomore and vice president of SNAC, the purpose of the club is to “bring kids with and without special needs to develop relationships [with each other] and spend time together on a regular basis.”
An extraordinary number of people showed up to the interest meeting at the beginning of the school year– so much that a line formed outside of the classrooms.
“We had way more participants than we expected which is a great blessing,” said Curlin. The club is so big that they had to split it into three groups and have it work on a four week cycle.
There are several activities that the club does with the special education students: cooking, arts, crafts and just hanging out with each other.
“My favorite part is doing the activities… I really like cooking,” said Jim (not his real name), who’s part of Killela’s special programs class and SNAC. “What I like about SNAC is that I get to see more kids that are our age. We can sit and talk with them.”
Jim’s classmate, Sally (not her real name), also likes to hang out with the other kids. “My favorite part is hanging with a bunch of my friends… [also], I get to get out of doing work.”
Cheering on the Heart of Lions – Grace Newton
The Heart of Pride Cheer team was introduced to Leesville’s special education program last year. The Varsity cheer team works with the Leesville special education program to help the kids exercise, socialize and learn basic cheerleading skills.
After seeing a special needs cheer team at the annual Wake County cheer competition, Ashley Van Slyck, varsity cheerleader, introduced the Heart of Pride — a cheer team for the special education students. “I was inspired and wanted to bring the program to Leesville,” said Van Slyck.
“My favorite part is the handstands,” said Danny, Leesville special education student.
The team meets every Monday to learn fun cheerleading tricks, routines and cheers. The varsity cheerleaders help each student to perfect their newfound skills, which helps build self-confidence and put smiles on both the students and cheerleaders’ faces.
The atmosphere at practices benefits both parties. The cheer team helps the students come to enjoy the sport they love, while the special education students are able to have fun while being active.
“I really like to have the freedom at practice, we aren’t free during the school day but when we go to practice we can talk to friends and do fun tricks,” said Sharon, Leesville special education student.
“The Heart of Pride Cheer Team has been a blessing for students, the amount of confidence and pure joy it gives my students really shows,” said Christine Killela, a teacher with Leesville’s special programs.
The Heart of the Pride, along with the varsity cheer team, will compete at the annual Wake County Cheer competition in January.
How FCCLA gives back – Taylor Penezic
On November 18 during SMART lunch, room 147 created an assembly line packing 45+ lunches and writing notes of encouragement inside each packed lunch for homeless members within the Raleigh community in partnership with Raleigh Rescue Mission.
Each year, Family Career Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) participates in a national outreach project for chapters across the country, and Leesville’s FCCLA chapter is no exception from doing their share in the student led leadership program. The 2016-2017 national outreach project is titled “Lead2feed,” a movement working to end hunger on a local and global scale.
Each bagged lunch contained a sandwich, chips, a granola bar, cookies, fruit and a water bottle.
Ms. Blackwelder, one of the FCCLA advisers, delivered the bagged lunches to Raleigh Rescue Mission the following afternoon.
On a more personal note, during my three years of being a member of FCCLA at Leesville, community involvement and service has always been a fundamental part of the club. This year, more community service projects are planned for future meetings. Leesville’s FCCLA chapter advisers emphasize the importance for members and for officers to understand that even a small effort can have a huge impact on the communities we live in.
FCCLA has greatly influenced the way I live, and I can only hope that the Leesville chapter has impacted the Raleigh community as much as it has to my own life.