Learning together: Students collaborate through the LEAP program

Every fourth period, Sophie Buffo, sophomore, heads to the special education classrooms to help as a teaching assistant.

“I am able to learn so many new things about the students,” Buffo said. “Just walking around school you can see fellow students smile and interact with the special ed students,”

Like Buffo, many people believe that the students in Newbury’s LEAP program, (Learning Essential Academic Program) are teaching as many lessons as they are learning.

“My favorite thing is having regular ed kids come in and work with our kids and seeing them experience the joy of helping other kids,” Anne Alvarez, special education teacher, said. “I see them grow as well as my kids grow. Because when you measure success in my program it’s different than measuring success in AP, IB or any other program. You see littler steps and you (see) social growth but you also see regular kids come in and they just grow because they learn that their life is meaningful.”

The LEAP program, within which Alvarez has worked for the past 9 years, is home to 25 kids in two special education classrooms.

Although special education students have a customized academic schedule, their school day is structured similarly to that of other students.

“They start period one with their essential skills class and they go through kind of a life skills kind of process. Then they have second period just like most of our students and they usually do english or math. And then third period again is an english or math follow-up,” Joshua Eby, principal of NPHS said. “Some of our students go to adaptive P.E. during fourth period, some go off campus for their job/work experience, and then at other times they go into main streamed elective classes like art media, woodshop, ecoart, even computers at times so that they are ingrained into our academics on campus.”

Aiden Hotchkiss, junior, has been a student in the LEAP program for the past three years and has greatly enjoyed her experience. “At Newbury Park High School we always have fun, get creative, have good friends and have a great day at high school,” Hotchkiss said.

Many of Hotchkiss’ classmates also participate in the “Sparkles” program in partnership with cheer.  According to McKenna Kimball, junior and president of Sparkles, the Sparkles team meets twice a week for 45 minutes to practice routines, which they perform at a variety of events to which they are invited. During football season, the Sparkles cheerleaders perform at the games along with cheerleaders.  

Kimball believes she has learned valuable life lessons from her involvement with the Sparkles.  “It’s helped me to really learn to accept all kinds of people and not be judgmental of any one because you don’t really know what someone is like until you get to know them,” Kimball said.  

Hannah Neiyer, freshman and Sparkles vice president, agreed.  “Sparkles has taught me to never take anything for granted and to never give up. The Sparkles cheerleaders never let anything bring them down and they always come to practice with a smile on their face,” Neiyer said.

Buffo believes there is no shortage of ways for students to get involved with the LEAP program.

“It is easy to get involved and fun to be able to get to know the special ed students as well as what they bring to our school,” Buffo said

One such way is Panther Pals, a lunchtime activity where volunteers can join LEAP students at lunch in order to get to know them. Other clubs include Slam Dunkers on Wednesdays where LEAP students play basketball with volunteers and Ballet for All on Fridays where students learn to dance. There are also plenty of annual events such as the Special Needs Spring Dance and the Special Olympics.

Buffo, an active volunteer in the program, believes  LEAP students are positively impacted by  the program. “Just walking around school you can see fellow students smile and interact with the special ed students. They have tons of fun and make so many friends,” Buffo said.

Alvarez echoes Buffo’s assessment.  “I think our program is different (from other special education programs) because the kids at Newbury Park High School don’t just accept our kids, they really befriend our kids, and that makes it an easier for them to be a part of the campus,” Alvarez said. “It’s just a great atmosphere for them.”

Photos by Samantha Meyer/Prowler

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