DOWNEY – When Luis Alvarez walked into his woodshop class at Downey High School last week, sporting an electric blue New York Giants No. 10 jersey, he barely made it past the door before the playful ribbing began. “Come on, Eli Manning?” teased classmate Christopher Sarinana. “Are you seriously wearing a Giants jersey?”
Alvarez puffed up his chest and beamed.
The sights and sounds of students joking and laughing normally wouldn’t elicit a second look, except in this case the students are part of a new effort at Downey High to commingle general and special education students.
“We wanted to offer our special needs students the opportunity to take elective courses, and our focus at the moment is the construction/woods class,” said Cindy Salceda, who handles career vocational education at Downey High.
Special needs students are learning the basics of woodworking alongside members of the Amigos Club, a campus organization that facilitates interaction between students of all ability levels.
Only four years old, the Amigos Club is already the largest club on campus with 300 members. It’s bridging the gap between two student populations that are more similar than they are different.
“I learned they’re not that different from us. They’re actually just like us -- they’re just a little bit challenged in certain ways,” said Sarinana, a junior. He said he joined the club after noticing several special education students eating alone at lunch time.
“The hardest part is breaking them out of their shells,” he added.
The friendship between general and special education students has extended beyond campus boundaries. Last month, special education students were accompanied by their general education classmates to a shopping spree at JC Penney, where they had the entire department store to themselves for Christmas shopping. (JC Penney opened at 7 a.m. exclusively for the students and Downey Los Amigos Kiwanis paid for the gifts.)
“It is very important for the special needs kids to feel like part of the Downey High School family,” Salceda, who is also the Amigos Club advisor, told the Downey Legend school newspaper. “During school they are very isolated and this club gives them opportunities to bond and become friends outside of school with the general education students.”
Back in woodshop, students spent much of December measuring, cutting and painting decorative pieces for Downey’s float entry in the Tournament of Roses Parade. Sitting side by side, students were measuring, cutting, sanding and painting.
A glance at the classroom and it was nearly impossible to differentiate between general and special education students.
And that’s just the way they like it.
Published: Jan. 1, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 38