- Sponsorship -

Workshop offers students with special needs a day of fun and learning

Aliyah Monterusso jumped up and down in excitement as she and her Sparta High School classmates put the finishing touches on a bench they were building at the Building Blocks for Healthy Relationships conference.

“It is perfect! We’re gonna use it in our school!” she exclaimed, as volunteers from Wedgwood Christian Services helped them drill the final screws in the boards and tipped up the bench for Aliyah and her classmates to sit on.

Ally Knoor, left, and Stellita Kuyper from the Forest Hills Transition program work out in the yoga and dance class

The Bench Buddy workshop was one of nine activities staged recently for nearly 300 students with special needs from nine high schools in Kent, Ionia and Montcalm counties. The daylong event was held at the Prince Conference Center on Calvin College’s campus in Grand Rapids.

As the buses arrived, students aged 14 to 26 were assigned to group activities that included bus-riding lessons, dance, yoga, snack preparation, personal hygiene and a “consent and boundaries” exercise.

In the gathering room, yoga instructor Pam Means led the groups through a variety of dance moves, yoga poses, stretching exercises and kickboxing moves that left the participants giggling and breathless.

In the “Mix, Mingle and Munch” session, two chefs showed participants how  to mix common pantry items into tasty treats.

Alex Courtright stretches a garland as he follows the leader’s moves in dance and yoga class

The Bigger Picture

The conference was the culmination of a three-year Sexual Risk Avoidance grant administered by Cheryl Blair of Kent ISD. The grant, from the Family & Youth Services Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, was aimed at offering at-risk youth positive activities aimed at building healthy relationships with their friends and family members, Blair said.

Jill Capozzoli, a teacher at Forest Hills Northern High School, said her students had been looking forward to the conference. “I think they enjoy getting out and being with their friends,” she said.

The conference also included serious topics. Sara Rumbarger, of the YWCA’s WEAVE (Working to End Assault and Violence for Everyone) program, led the students in exercises aimed at teaching them when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to physical and intimate contact.

Devin Cariano of Forest Hills enjoys a stretching activity in the yoga and dance class

“We know they are at a higher risk,” said Rumbarger. “We’re trying to teach them how to get help.”

She led the groups through role-playing exercises in which they discussed when kissing and hugging were permissible and when they were not. According to WEAVE’s statistics, 83 percent of women with a developmental or intellectual disability will be sexually victimized. And, just 3 percent of their abuser are strangers.

The workshop was the culmination of a three-year grant to provide sexuality education and positive youth activity options for special education students in self-contained secondary classrooms, Blair said.

More than 550 students from 19 school districts and 57 classrooms participated in the program, Blair said. Students have 10 lessons in sexuality education in each of the grant’s three years.

- Sponsorship -
James Harger
James Harger
James Harger left School News Network in January of 2020. James previously reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor.


Longtime volunteer does whatever’s needed for school: ‘I love being here’

A 24-year parent and grandparent volunteer tends to student and family needs at Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy...

Lessons from a pandemic: ‘agile learners’ need ‘agile adults’

Reflecting on the end of fall semester and 2020, Superintendent Dedrick Martin sat down with School News Network to discuss how Caledonia adapted to school closures, virtual learning and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic...

It’s all about getting students back to classrooms, Supt. Shibler says of the vaccine

Superintendent Michael Shibler hopes the more people get vaccinated, the closer we are to the end of the pandemic...

Young constitutional scholars view current events, politics through historical lens

East Grand Rapids and East Kentwood high school We the People team members have qualified for the national competition, becoming well versed in civics and critical thinking along the way...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

‘Hope on the horizon’ as local teachers start getting COVID-19 vaccine

Lincoln School special education teacher, Ann Post believes there is 'hope on the horizon' for Kent ISD teachers and educators across Kent County after receiving her first round of the COVID-19 vaccine...

Partnership continues focus on student emotional, mental health

A group is working to identify trauma and provide support early in order to increase student success...

A familiar face returns to lead Kent ISD

Retired Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent Ron Koehler officially took the helm as interim superintendent on Jan. 1...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU