Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
A dozen young patients at Mott Children’s Hospital are now enjoying thick warm blankets created just for them by students in a peer-to-peer program at Pioneer High School.
Peer-to-peer programs are a part of every AAPS school, and while they are known by various names (Huron’s Peer Facilitating Lab and Learning at Eberwhite About Diversity (LEAD) are examples), they all have one goal: to increase interaction between students in general and special education for the benefit of all.
This time those benefits extended to a few children at Mott, as well.
“We love giving the blankets out to the kids because it helps brighten up their rooms,” said Mott spokesman Kevin Smith.
Last month, about 20 members of Pioneer’s Unified Champion Schools (formerly Project Unify) spent their weekly lunchtime meetings creating fleece blankets that a group of seven students and three staff dropped off today at the hospital.
In the past, the group held holiday parties for themselves, but this year, members have become more service-oriented, explained Dana Cesarz, an ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) teacher at Pioneer.
Senior Anna Frenette has been volunteering with Special Olympics for years, so she was happy to get involved as a leader of the Unified Champion Shops Committee. She said the club is a way for students with special needs to give back, when often others are volunteering their time for them.
“So now they’re giving their time to help other people,” she said.
Junior Deante Vaughn, 16, thinks the club is “pretty awesome” and likes the new friends he’s made there, and the time they’ve tied strips of fleece together to form the fringe of the blankets.
“I think (the recipients) are going to be happy,” said Deante, whose favorite Special Olympics events are track and basketball.
The Pioneer PTO donated money for the fleece, and Unified Champion Schools is funded through a grant from Special Olympics. The goal is for students to have social time together during the school day, and participate in Special Olympics sporting events as a team.
The Unified Champion Schools club has naturally developed an atmosphere of acceptance, respect, and fun, said Cesarz.
“This peer-to-peer program is having such a positive impact on all students involved,” she said. “As these types of programs are becoming more common at elementary and secondary levels, students with and without disabilities are developing long-lasting relationships that carry on through the years.
Anyone interested in making a fleece blanket for a patient at Mott can go to fleeceandthankyou.org for information.