Originally published Dec. 3, 2022 by Holland Sentinel.
By Mitchell Boatman
A class at Hamilton Middle School is building connections and friendships between different segments of the student body.
Mentor Physical Education pairs a select group of seventh- and eighth-grade student helpers with special education students from the Intensive Resource Program. Mentors help their classmates achieve individualized physical education goals.
Liz VandeWege launched the class when she started teaching at Hamilton Middle School in 2018. Each trimester, she and fellow teachers choose about 15 students to become classroom helpers. Students apply to the program and are selected based on leadership and social skills and other characteristics.
“It melts my heart,” VandeWege said of the class. “I smile so much seeing them come up with different games and ways to help each other to make it more fun — it's the best thing in the world.”
Student goals range from running certain distances to endurance exercises to throwing a ball.
“It helps the Intensive Resource students learn PE skills they can hopefully translate into the rest of their life,” VandeWege said. "It's also great for my seventh and eighth grade kids, so they get experience working with other kids and learning about different disabilities.”
Often, the students become friends, building relationships that might not otherwise have blossomed.