A Step Toward Falling Brings Awareness to the Special Needs Community

Chloe Lendi, Writer

 

Ever since senior Gaby Gomez started working for the Friendship Foundation four years ago, she has felt like it is her second home. She has made new friendships with the staff, volunteers, and participants due to its accepting environment.

“There’s this one kid named Tyler. He’s twenty-two years old and is very sweet. Every time he sees me he lights up and yells my name,” said Gomez. “You know that everyone accepts you for who you are.”

The Friendship Foundation is an organization based in the South Bay that provides a safe space for children and adults with special needs. The program offers dance, art, music, sports, and yoga classes along with movie nights and field trips to Dodger games and water parks.

Over this summer break Gomez found that summer reading book A Step Towards Falling taught her lessons similar to those of the foundation. The novel is about a 21-year-old girl named Belinda with special needs in high school who gets sexually assaulted. She struggles with not being included with the other students and in after-school programs like school plays.  

“The foundation has taught me to be more patient and more open-minded, but it has also given me the courage to stand up for people who don’t have a voice, just like in A Step Toward Falling,” said Gomez.

Gomez hopes that after reading this book, students will be more friendly and inclusive to the special education students here on campus.

“This is why I think it’s so important that more people are aware of the Friendship Foundation and get comfortable around people with special needs, because they aren’t any different than us. They still have feelings, hearts, and minds.”

Many students also found the summer reading to be meaningful because it showed students the importance of being more kind and open to those around them.

Junior Niki Mabry believes that “when people see [special education students] in the halls, they try to avoid them and try to walk around them, and make it obvious that they are different.”

Mabry believes this book will “help open everyone’s eyes” and help others see past a person’s disability.

Karen Kostrencich, English teacher and the advisor of Be The Change, found that the summer reading book highlighted many themes and important lessons involving social responsibility, sexual assault, and inclusion. The book addressed major issues by assessing the exclusion of the special needs community and the prejudice many students with disabilities face as they are treated differently in school.

“This year our focus as a leadership team, meaning ASB, BTC, PAC, GSA, PVOW and CARE, is on inclusion. We want everyone to feel like they belong here, like they’re a part of this campus, and that would include the special education department as well,” said Kostrencich.

To make sure everyone at school is involved this year, BTC and ASB are planning on hosting activities that involve the special needs students, such as the second challenger basketball game. This event gives students with special needs on campus the chance to compete in a basketball game while the entire school cheers them on.

“I think that with the Challenger basketball game, it really showed us that we need to give our students more opportunities to be kind and inclusive, because as much as the Special Ed students loved it, our students loved it even more,” said Kostrencich.