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HVA students switch roles


Hardin Valley Academy student peer tutors, left to right, Kara Amin, Kelsey Frix and Andy Alpers, participated in a recent Disability Roleplaying project at HVA. The project was intended to put the peer tutors in the shoes of their disabled student c- Kim Johnson/farragutpress
How many choices and steps are involved in deciding what to eat for dinner?

First, there is the conscious choice to actually eat dinner. Then comes what time, where, how much, and a myriad of other choices that many people take for granted will be theirs to make.

Imagine not being able to make any of those choices, or any other choices that impact daily life.

That is exactly what Hardin Valley Academy special education teacher, Tim Lee, asked his student peer tutors to do during a recent Disability Roleplay project.

“We have 45 peer tutors, and we center our attention on developing relationships between the peer tutors and the students,” Lee said.

“Throughout the semester the students [with disabilities] are put in situations through job training out in the community and personal management goals, which include shopping and using fast-food restaurants and those types of things. The peer tutor’s purpose is to act as a role model in those situations and demonstrate the appropriate social behaviors that we want them to emulate. They work alongside them; they are not just there to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are there to help reinforce, to help correct, and to help provide the feedback they need to be successful,” he added.


Lee said the idea for the role playing project came from a recent class discussion in which he tried to explain to the peer tutors just how many choices people are faced with everyday and how overwhelming that can be for a student with disabilities.

He thought it would be a good idea to put the peer tutors in the shoes of a disabled student for a couple of days.

“When we started this activity, we looked at two different disabilities, autism and cerebral palsy, and there are some extreme characteristics of both,” Lee said.

“What I wanted them to understand was that we are looking at extreme behaviors and this is not what defines the disability and not what defines the people who have these disabilities, but there are people who have these extreme cases. We wanted them to understand the attention and the pressure that goes with the extreme characteristics,” he added.

Lee presented the students with a list of some extreme characteristics that they would have to follow if they chose to participate in the project.

Immediately there were concerns that the peer tutors would appear to be mocking other students, so Lee had the participants wear signs proclaiming the disability they were portraying and asking “How will you treat me?”

Lee said each student was given a choice whether to participate, and he wanted to make sure they were completely comfortable with the project.

“In wearing the sign, they are saying, ‘you see my behavior; you see I have autism, how are you going to treat me?’

“And what they really got to see was the feeling of having to depend on other people to help them be appropriate,” Lee said.

Sophomore peer tutor Kara Amin said the project helped her realize how important making choices is in life.

“I learned that even the smallest choices impact what you do and how people see you and react to you. In the hallway people gave me dirty looks and I had never even seen them before,” she said.

Junior Kelsey Frix said the project led her to decide to be more conscious of her own behavior.

“I will look at someone sometimes and judge them without even thinking about it, and I think this has opened my eyes to how I can better myself and learn not do that. The way people have been looking at me all day, and how they have been treating me is just awful,” she added.

Senior Andy Alpers said, “It helped me realize a lot of struggles they have to deal with on a daily basis, even for the smallest things that we do not have to think about. It is good to be able to understand some of what they have to go through. ”

All three said they thought the project was a good idea and they were glad they chose to participate.

 

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