STOW — The students in the Teammates class gathered in the Stow-Munroe Falls High School gym for a fun game of baseball. The class divided into two sections, depending on playing ability, and soon were having fun, encouraging each other through tougher moments and cheering successes.
At one point, one student came charging toward home as fast as he could go, even sliding across the gym floor.
"Are you OK, Danny?" one of the teachers called.
"Yeah," said Danny Benson, 21. He seemed puzzled that anyone would have thought anything was wrong. "I'm OK. I'm safe."
MaryKay Misterka, the district’s special services supervisor, said that Teammates combines students with disabilities and students without disabilities.
"The typical kids act as role models and pair with our special needs kiddos," Misterka said. "It's a great program and a wonderful learning experience for our typical kids. It's about coming together, making lifelong friends and making a community."
The class has value on multiple levels, said Sandra Kehn, an intervention specialist. For example, students wishing to be teachers take the class to gain more experience in working with students who are special needs.
"Some students want to be teachers," Kehn said. "And sometimes a student will come to Teammates and decide to become a teacher, which is a beautiful thing."
There are other fields students may be considering that participating in Teammates could give them an edge, said Beth Lewandowski, an intervention specialist.
"Some will go into occupational therapy or speech therapy," Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski said that the typically developing peers were upperclassmen; the students with special needs were all ages.
"The activities switch off week to week," Lewandowski said. "They are exposed to a variety of different things. We do archery, soccer, basketball, and track and field."
Kehn said the school's Athletic Boosters buys the class T-shirts every year.
Junior Madison Swedlow, 17, said she found out about the class last year from the high school librarian. She was encouraged to attend a class and "signed up for it immediately after."
"It's one of my favorite classes," said Madison. "I've seen so many of these kids improve. For example, one kid, he never talked. Now he smiles and does high-fives."
Madison said she was thinking of studying to be either an English teacher, or a career in criminology.
Senior Blake Moravcik, 18, said he enjoyed working with the students.
"The neatest thing I've learned is teaching them how to throw the ball," Blake said.
Blake said that his goal was to get a job, preferably in food preparation, after he graduated.
Misterka said that she first met Blake, who has a twin brother, when he joined the district's preschool program at Indian Trail Elementary School at age 3.
"Several of our students started in our preschool program," Misterka said.
Superintendent Tom Bratten and several of the school board members came to observe the class.
"I think any program that you can have that doesn't leave any child behind, that bridges the gaps, is fantastic," Bratten said. "It's amazing work. People talk about test scores all the time, but it's not just about test scores. It's about building relationships."
Board member Lisa Johnson-Bowers said the class benefits everyone.
"This class does as much for these kids as it does those kids," Johnson-Bowers said. "Teaching is about getting someone to a level they aren't able to get to alone. Both sides are the teachers. Both sides raise each other up. This is a hidden treasure of the Stow-Munroe Falls school district."
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC