Project Support helps build new friendships

Special education students paired with peers

The Project Support group at Oakwood High School gives special education students and their peers a chance to build supportive friendships with each other during monthly events and activities.

Kristin Bull, an Oakwood High School special education teacher, has been involved with Project Support for five years. Her interest in one-on-one interactions and her past experiences in helping students overcome struggles in learning are reasons why she chose to be one of the lead mentors of the group. “I love seeing the special education students’ faces light up when they are with their regular education friends. Their excitement is worth all the work,” she said.

Christine Roll, whose son has Down syndrome, became interested in Project Support after hearing about it from her son’s elementary school. Her son is a new member of the group and she said she hopes the experience will help him build friendships. “I wanted other students to understand how his diagnosis affects him by spending time outside of the classroom getting to know him,” she said. “Hopefully students discover that we are all more alike than different.”

Project Support provides its members opportunities to interact with each other by holding one group lunch and one group activity per month.

Activities range from attending Senior High plays to crafting spider and pumpkin decorations for the holiday season. Fund raisers are held periodically to help cover the costs of these events.

Bull said she hopes all of these lunches and activities help the students bond and build friendships with each other. “I hope that the regular education students learn and understand that not everyone acts the same, but it is wonderful to learn what everyone has to offer,” she said.

Project Support’s mission statement is to create a warm and friendly environment for all students so they can build a support system of friends and serve as peer tutors and role models for students with disabilities.

Roll said she thinks the mission statement is very hopeful. “Most great memories of being in school are all the extracurricular opportunities, such as sports and clubs. My son is not able to participate in many of these due to his cognitive issues,” she said. “I hope Project Support will create social opportunities for my son with his peers. Friendships are very important in life.”

Members of the group come and go as they please, but Bull guessed attendance averages around 15 students between both education levels at every event. Bull also pointed out that currently the group consists primarily of girls, but she said she hopes more boys will join in the future.

Working mostly as a special education teacher, Bull said she likes the opportunities Project Support gives her to get to know more students outside of her classroom. “Project Support has given me the opportunity to get to know the regular education students,” she said. “I am not always available to meet those outside of my classroom. This is just one opportunity to meet more students in our community.”

Bull sadly acknowledged the group is relatively low-key in the community. “I don’t think it has as big of an impact as I would like,” she said. “However, it does give my special education students someone to wave to in the hallway and say hello to during class. They really like that.”

One way community members can get involved this year is by participating in Project Support’s big fundraiser. The students are selling dog treats in order to throw a roller-skating party at the end of the year.

“There are three flavors of pet treats: beef, chicken and cheese. They are $4 for about 40 dog treats a bag. We receive half the profit, which is great,” Bull said. The dog treats are made by people with special needs, she added.

Treats can be bought at Pets and People at the Second Street Market, and can also be purchased by contacting Kristin Bull via email at bull.kristin@oakwoodschools.org or by calling Oakwood High School, (937) 297-5325, and asking for her.

“It means a lot to the students when the community supports them,” Bull said. “The party at the end of the year is something they are really looking forward to.”

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