Peer Power Partners expands to Ellis
Published 10:14 am Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Ellis Middle School students had a chance to walk in the shoes of some of their peers Monday.
Author’s Tara Tuchel and Jaimie Lowell visited with students at the school as part of the Peer Power Partners kickoff at Ellis. The program has about 50 students at Ellis this year and about 100 students at I.J. Holton Intermediate School.
Monday’s event at Ellis featured several activities for students to gain a new perspective.
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“It’s a hands-on experience for what it’s like to have some of these disabilities,” said Mary Barinka, a parent and member of the Community Pride and Spirit Committee with Vision 2020.
The auditorium was filled with tables and activities for students to experience the disabilities some of their classmates may have, such as a literal and figurative language table, a sensory table, a communicating without words table, a moods and emotions table, and a “parking lot,” or a table where students asked questions and discussed what they learned.
There was also a large-group game where students were asked to spell words that were said through a distortion microphone while the lights were flickering off and on, which simulated distractions or a possible hearing disability.
“It’s a fun way to learn some of these concepts, but there’s nothing like experiencing it,” Barinka said.
Peer Power Partners started at I.J. Holton last year, and Barinka was excited to have the program expand to Ellis. Monday’s program started at 9 a.m. and went until 3 p.m.
“It was a pretty full day,” Barinka said.
Ellis Principal Jason Senne is also excited about the program coming to Ellis.
“These activities have been a lot of fun for [students] to discover how challenging disabilities can be,” he said. “It’s definitely exciting.”
Peer Power Partners pairs youth with special needs and same-aged peers to promote friendships, understanding and advocacy. It is a collaborative of the Parenting Resource Center, Austin Public Schools and Vision 2020 Community Pride and Spirit, and is funded by the Hormel Foundation, Austin Public Education Foundation and private donations.
Barinka said many students are excited to join the program after seeing what it was about Monday, and organizers hope the program will expand next year.
“We’re getting a really warm reception,” Barinka said. “We really are reaching our goals.”
Tuchel and Lowell, who co-wrote a children’s book about autism called “My Best Friend Will,” also spoke at a community presentation Monday evening at the Hormel Historic Home.