|A warm heart and a passion for helping leads to Sparkle Club at TJH|
|Written by Deborah Stone|
Kamy Quackenbush is an outgoing teen with a large social circle. Among her many friends are several kids with special needs, who she met while working as a ninth grade peer coach at Timbercrest Junior High.Quackenbush will tell you that she doesn’t differentiate when it comes to any of her friends.
She says, “Friends are friends to me. Everyone is unique and we all have our challenges, but we’re all basically typical teenagers who just like to hang out with each other and have fun.”
As a peer coach, the teen, under the supervision of TJH teacher Brandi Doyle, accompanied students from Doyle’s functional skills and academic program to P.E. and drama classes. There, she helped them to participate in class activities, as well as assisted in facilitating their interaction with the other students.
“Being a peer coach is so much fun,” comments Quackenbush. “I did it because I basically wanted to make new friends. That was really my main motivation.” She adds, “As a peer coach, you don’t act or pretend to be a teacher or anything like that. The best way I can explain it is that you’re a friend who’s just helping a friend.”
Prior to her involvement as a peer coach at TJH, the teen had had some experience with individuals with special needs.
In elementary school, she would often socialize and play games with some of the special needs kids during lunch. She also has a great aunt with Down’s syndrome, so she understands the need to exercise patience when interacting with others who have a varying array of mental, physical and/or emotional challenges. “Kamy is a wonderful student,” comments Doyle. “She is kind and caring, and she has an amazing ability to include, explain and encourage my students. She is so selfless, with such a warm heart and her passion for helping goes above and beyond. We celebrate her each day.”
Doyle adds, “In addition to her work as a peer coach, Kamy also started a spirit club here at Timbercrest for both students with disabilities and their peers. Her vision was to include all kids, so she created a proposal for our ASB and formed ‘Sparkle Club.’
Each week, she planned different activities to encourage school spirit and inclusion. It’s been extremely successful because of her dedication and compassion.”
Doyle explains that for most of her students, Sparkle Club is their first club involvement at the school. She notes that they look forward to it each week.
The idea arose when Quackenbush read an article about a school that started a cheer club for girls with special needs. “We don’t have a cheer squad at Timbercrest,” explains the teen, “so I worked with the principal and vice principal here to adapt the idea for our school. I just wanted to make sure we included both girls and boys because there are more boys than girls with special needs at our junior high.”
As the aim of the club was inclusion, Quackenbush made sure to advertise the meetings on the school’s reader board and in the daily announcements in order to get participation from as many kids in the student body as possible. On average, 10 special needs students and an equal number of their peers came to the meetings.
“We played board games, did arts and crafts projects and just hung out with each other,” says the teen. “For example, for Martin Luther King’s birthday, we made clouds and then filled them in with expressions of our dreams. We made maracas for Cinco de Mayo and we also decorated boxes to fill with mementos from our spring break.”
Quackenbush notes that the feedback from participants has been very positive. Both the students with special needs and their peers have expressed how much fun they have had in the club.
She comments, “It’s been a good opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better.”
In the process, Quackenbush gained valuable leadership and organizational skills. But, most importantly, she gained new friends. The teen, who will attend WHS next fall, plans to continue her work as a peer coach. She is hopeful that incoming eighth and ninth graders at TJH will keep the Sparkle Club going and will offer her help to them if needed.
“My two passions in life are drama and working with special populations,” says Quackenbush. “I’d love a career as a professional actor, but I’d also like to be a special ed. teacher and maybe one day create a nonprofit organization for kids with special needs. It would be great if I could do both.”