Lunchtime on Fridays at Dehi High isn't just for eating. The break in between classes has become a time for different student groups to mix and mingle, especially with the special education students.
The junior varsity and varsity squads of the Delhi High School cheerleaders are working to bridge the gap between special education and traditional education at their school. Special educations classes at DHS are self contained, which naturally leads to a separation between traditionally and specially educated students. The cheerleaders and school faculty aim to create a better learning space for all students by integrating the students by bringing in traditionally educated students during their lunch break to spend time with the special education students. This combination has proved beneficial for the special education students, their teachers and the volunteers.
“It is really helpful. It gives the students a social aspect that they don’t get in the classroom. It gives them a feeling that they belong on this campus,” said Lorie Guinard, a special education teacher through the Merced County Office of Education.
Matt Ward, a math teacher and advisor of the Helping Hawks service club on campus, was one of the people who initially sponsored the integration of students over a year ago. A student of the club recommended that members spend their lunch time reading and talking with special education students which inspired Ward to ask the cheerleaders to teach some cheers to the special education students at the beginning of the school year. Each Friday about 30 cheerleaders volunteer their lunchtime to sing and dance with 40 special education students.
“I love it. They have such joy on their faces and honestly you don’t see that all that often,” said Alex Cuery, a sophomore cheerleader who also comes in during weekdays with friends to spend time reading and play games with the students.
The spirit of students serving others has permeated beyond the cheerleading squad as members of the Helping Hawks also come in during their lunch to spend time in the special education classes as well. After the idea was initially suggested at the Helping Hawks meeting, senior Ramon Murillo came in that same day after school to get involved, often reading to groups of students at lunchtime.
“I wanted to come in as soon as possible. It is kind of an unexplainable feeling, it just makes me so happy seeing them happy,” said Murillo, who intends to study child development and pursue a career in special education. Murillo is currently attempting to become a special education teacher’s assistant in the upcoming semester, something the school is considering providing as an option for all students in the future.
Bianca Nunez became acquainted with the special education department through her softball coach who works in the department. Nunez would spend her lunches in the department, eventually making it a daily tradition to help with activities and nutrition for the special education students each lunch break.
“My favorite aspect is making them happy. They need friends just like us,” said Nunez, who noted that getting involved in special education has helped her better understand her school overall.