Life skills students in Harlingen buddy up with general ed counterparts

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General education and life skill students buddy up at Memorial Middle School to build a pyramid with red cups and string. (Travis Whitehead | Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — When we think of life skills, we often think of the practical matters of counting money, washing clothes and preparing meals.

However, the kids at Memorial Middle School know it goes beyond those physical tasks into the deeper things in life. It means camaraderie, companionship and conversation, the things which offer liberation from the solitude that often afflicts us, because no one likes bearing their burdens alone.

In the class of Genesis Campos, the life skills students are working alongside general education students who have volunteered for the buddy program. They cooperate with one another to build a pyramid with red cups and string, and there is laughter and conversation and friendship.

“They are working on team building,” says Sara Carney, director of the special education department at Memorial.

“This is just as important for our life skills students as for the buddies coming in,” Carney said.

It does indeed seem important to all the kids in this small room filled with knowledge and opportunity and broadening perspective.

“You can make new friends,” says Jeremiah Ybarra, 12, a seventh grade life skills student.

“You can talk to them by going with them and you can draw with them,” he says. “You can tell them how you are feeling. You can talk to them about your favorite pets.”

Their general education buddies are learning more about the human perspective through their work in the buddy program.

“I really like it a lot because it’s really fun,” says Khloe Williams, 12. “I get to interact with certain students. What made me sign up with this was just to interact with people and be more social.”

General education and life skill students buddy up at Memorial Middle School to build a pyramid with red cups and string. (Travis Whitehead | Valley Morning Star)

It’s very much a learning experience for Khloe.

“You have to learn from them,” she says. “You see how they interact with people in a certain way. They are very social. They should be seen as real people. It’s a very fun class.”

While people with special needs are a new experience for many students, Jayden Flores has the benefit of familiarity.

“I have a special needs uncle so I was like, ‘This is easy,’” says Jayden, 14, an eighth grader.

“To me they are just people,” he continues. “I like to interact with them. It’s new for me to interact with other students. My parents are happy. I’m happy just meeting with them and having conversations one on one. They listen more.”

Consuelo Mata, 13, always enjoys working with the buddies from general education.

“It’s good,” she says. “I like to be with them trying to build a tower.”

General education and life skill students buddy up at Memorial Middle School to build a pyramid with red cups and string. (Travis Whitehead | Valley Morning Star)

Chloe Reyna, 14, gives the program a thumbs up.

“I like going with them, especially Angel. He’s been my friend for a few years.”

Campos, their teacher, moves around the classroom with her own kind of excitement.

“I love it,” she says. “They are building lasting relationships.”


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