Central’s champions stay close despite social distancing

Brielle Young, Co-Editor in Chief

For Central’s Champions, the transition from traditional schooling to virtual learning can prove to be difficult. However, Central’s IND Department is working hard to keep the connection between students alive from a distance. 

Peers Partners is a class offered for students interested in making connections and lasting bonds with students in Central’s IND department, who have intellectual disabilities. Both peer partners and IND students work hard to ensure that their educational and social needs are being met, inside of the classroom, and also online. 

Typically, Peers Partners work with students on class-based concepts. This means that Peer Partners are assigned a class and students to work with, and these classes represent typical classes offered to all students. 

“For Peer Partners, my fourth-period class is United States History,” shared junior, Peer Partner, and Best Buddies Historian Briana Granitto. “So far, the students have been playing U.S. History related games and have been watching documentaries.”

Mr. Anderson, a U.S. History teacher, is adapting his teaching style as well in order to best reach the students and pique their interest in topics. One thing he is doing to maximize engagement is writing on a whiteboard and holding it up to the camera to show his class. 

Normally, Peer Partners are working right beside students in the classroom as teachers go over lessons. Peer Partners assist in any way they can, whether it be writing down information, giving clues and tips on how to solve problems and reach better solutions, or generally helping them stay on task. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly complicated this, but IND students are up to conquer the challenge. 

“I love the energy of my classes when my students are here,” explained Dr. Russell, who teaches Intensive Reading. “While on distance learning, the energy is still there but subdued. I miss that and find it a challenge because I am invigorated by the energy in the room.”

Even though class is done over Google Meets, students are still able to collaborate with their Peer Partners while engaging in fun and interesting lessons. For instance, Google Breakout Rooms, a feature on Google Meets that allows people to join private meets while still being in the main meet, have greatly assisted Peer Partners and students with connecting with each other online. Additionally, students have the opportunity to ask questions during Google Meets and are able to speak and answer questions asked by their teachers. 

However, virtual learning does pose unprecedented challenges for students. Because a virtual connection needs to be created, and not an in-person one, keeping students focused can prove to be somewhat difficult.

“It is difficult sometimes to work together,” emphasized senior, Peer Partner, and Best Buddies Treasurer Emma Migliara. “The biggest challenge about working with the kids during distance learning is getting everyone focused on the topic. 

“I think some challenges for all students involved with the IND department would be with focusing and staying on task,” emphasized Granitto. “We are not all together next to each other making sure that everyone is following along. However, the students are very good at interacting with the teachers and their Peer Partners.” 

Best Buddies, another organization on campus that works to create opportunities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is also having to adapt to a new online format. The usual Holiday, Halloween, and Thanksgiving parties are currently in limbo. However, ideas are being thrown at Best Buddies club meetings as to how to plan events and interact with others; a virtual Best Buddies “Buddy Walk” and a potential “lunch bunch” meet to discuss fun events and memories from last year are all being considered. 

Even with uncertainty about future events and virtual learning challenges, the experience is just as rewarding as it was when school was in person. The key to distance learning is to try and retain some sense of normalcy, and this is being achieved in each class. 

“Something that is still the same is the relationships and conversations during free time,” explained Granitto. “We are all still very close and the students are all really loving, which makes me miss them even more!”

Though this school year will undoubtedly be challenging for students involved with the IND department, these students have never shied away from difficulties. Overcoming virtual barriers will be difficult, but with such an inspirational and amazing group of students, anything will be possible.