Inclusion gym class leads to friendships, ‘promposals’

This school year, instead of enrolling in regular old gym class, Erika Brann, a senior at Shepard High School in Palos Heights, Ill., applied to be a mentor in the school’s Power Physical Education program.

She was interviewed and accepted and then paired with a junior, who is involved in the school’s special education program.

The two not only work together through activities such as kickball, baseball and calisthenics, they spend the class time chatting and bonding the way teens are known to do.

“You work one on one with someone who is in one of the special programs in our school,” Erika said.

Standing inside the Bo Jackson Elite Sports Dome in Lockport, Ill., where students enrolled in District 218’s Power PE program spent the day recently, hitting the batting cages, obstacle courses and soccer fields for boisterous games of dodge ball, Erika explained why she wanted to be in the program at Shepard.

“I wanted the chance to connect with one of the students who doesn’t really get the opportunity to really connect with gen-ed students. I felt making that connection was really important,” she said. “People always like to define someone by their abilities.”

But, she added, friendships are not based on abilities.

Since they began working together last fall, the two have become good friends, so good, in fact, that Erika recently asked him to prom.

She plans to wear red to the May 5 dance at Navy Pier.

Her date said he, too, “will get all dressed up.”

The “promposal” was one of four that took place during Shepard’s Special Olympics assembly March 10, Power PE teacher Ashley Lythberg said.

During the gathering, Erika held a larger-than-life head shot of the student and a poster that read, “It would be really, really great if you went to prom with me.”

Relying on Starbursts and Skittles to persuade, other students “popped” the question in a similar manner during the event.

The invitations are evidence that the district’s ongoing attempts to blur the divide between special-needs students and standard education kids is working, Lythberg said.

Dan Hennigan, who works with kids with autism at Shepard, said the mixed physical education class is “changing the lives of kids with disabilities and also the lives of kids without.”

The program, he said, “proves inclusion works in the real world.”

In addition, he said, “So many seniors now want to become special education teachers because of this program. They would never have had that exposure if it wasn’t for this program.”

Illinois District 218’s two other schools, Richards in Oak Lawn and Eisenhower in Blue Island, also offer the class, which invites general education students to work with kids enrolled in any of the district’s multi-needs, cognitive, and autism programs. Power PE, which began as a pilot two years ago at Shepard, now boasts 55 “mentors” and 43 “buddies,” Hennigan said.

The initiative was started “because we want all our kids to be included,” Hennigan said. “We want them to want to be together.”

Under the watchful eye of mentor Grace Betz, Richards sophomore Trevor Thompson ran the obstacle course that culminated in “downing” a large bop bag.

At the end, the two reviewed a “high-five” routine they created.

“Hugs, hand shakes, fist bumps, and high-fives,” Grace said. Trevor repeated the sequence, physically and verbally.

“All right,” Grace said.

Hennigan, who also works part-time at the sports facility, said the company donates the space and time to the district _ an outing that, he said, would costs into the thousands if they had to pay.

As the students moved from baseball to kickball, many pausing to bounce a giant silver ball across a field, Hennigan said, traditionally, special-needs students “are in a self-contained setting. We wanted our kids to be around their peers, to be teenagers because they are teenagers. Some may look different on the outside but they want to be included, they want to be liked, they want to have friends.”

The hard part, particularly with autism, he said, “is that some of our students lack the social skills to maybe start a conversation or meet a friend. This sets that up for them. Now, we’re starting to see kids visiting each other after school. It’s expanding more than we ever expected.”

Kate Evoy also works in the Shepard autism program. She said Power PE is not unique to the district.

“We’re seeing more of a push at high schools across the country to include students with special needs as much as possible,” Evoy said. “I think electives in PE are a really good place to start. There are other districts that have similar programs. They’re all kind of the same in the sense that they pair mentors with special-needs kids. The mentors get training, which helps them learn how to interact.”

Lauren Sheehan, a special education teacher at Shepard, said the concept of unification is expanding to other programs, including athletics.

“This is the first time we did a unified sports team for Special Olympics,” Sheehan said. “Unified means gen-ed and special-ed peers on the same team. Everyone plays. It’s an initiative that Special Olympics started a few years ago.”

This year, she said, Shepard also fielded a unified soccer team. “We had seven athletes in special-ed and six or seven gen-ed peers on the same team,” she said.

“The point,” she said, “is to take that inclusion mind frame that schools are trying to promote as much as possible and do that in athletics.”

Speedy the goat saves a family from a fire

POINSETT COUNTY, Ark. — Don’t let the little goat fool you. Speedy, the loud family pet, is now being hailed a hero.

“I was in the living room sleeping,” said Abigail Bruce.

The 10-year-old said her sleep was interrupted Saturday night by Speedy.

Speedy was jumping on her legs and then her chest. He wasn’t giving up until his message got across.

“I was thinking what’s happening? And all I seen was smoke,” she said.

Abigail jumped off the couch and barged into her parent’s room.

“I woke up to Abigail running into the room saying it was smokey and she could barely breathe,” said her father Nick Bruce.

He soon realized the garage was engulfed in flames.

“The fire was already starting to come through the windows,” he said.

The family jumped out the bedroom window and onto the front lawn unscathed.

The Weiner fire department got to their home on North Prairie minutes later. They were able to get the flames out, but unfortunately, the smoke and soot damaged everything inside.

The family said it could have been worse if it weren’t for Speedy.

“He knew what to do and everything,” said Abigail.

See, Speedy joined the family two days before their home caught fire. The goat was an early birthday gift for Abigail and lived with the family inside their home.

“I didn’t approve of him at first but he’ll be there from now on,” said Nick Bruce.

Speedy isn’t your normal pet, but Abigail knew that all along.

“I think he was special before we got him,” she said.

Officials told WREG the cause of the fire was electrical.

The Weiner Fire Department and the Jonesboro Fire Department set up a fund to help the family.

If you would like to help, call the Jonesboro Fire Department at (870) 932-2428.

Santa Rosa Shelter Rescues Dogs From Mexico

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — A new Bay Area dog shelter is looking past borders to save dogs. Muttopia is giving dogs from Mexico a second chance at life.

In this rural neighborhood in Santa Rosa, right before the end of the road, is a place for new beginnings.

Christi and Mancho Camblor are founders of Compassion Without Borders, a dog rescue group.

“We rescue a lot of animals from really rough places…” Mancho Camblor said.

They began 15 years ago in Mexico City, taking the hardest cases, like Toby who they found dragging himself through the streets.  With medical care and a lot of patience, he’s now living happily in his new home in Ukiah. Mexico is a tough place for dogs and the couple have treated hundreds of abused animals in their mobile vet truck.

“And sadly, we would have to leave a lot of dogs behind because there just wasn’t a space for them to go,” Mancho Camblor said.

But with Muttopia, that is changing. An animal welfare group called CAPE donated $700,000 for the couple to open their own shelter. They found this former chicken ranch in December and now up to 50 dogs have a place to recover from the hard life they’ve known, on either side of the border.

“So we help animals in Mexico because they need help. We help animals here because they need help. You pretty much help. We help animals!  Compassion without borders!” Mancho Camblor said.

And the group’s work in Mexico is starting to make a difference. Painful forms of euthanasia have been banned and new anti-cruelty laws are being enforced. They’re setting an example for an entire nation.

“Mexico really needs…people that pioneer and teach that it’s actually possible to do this. And to stop the horrendous suffering that is there,” Mancho Camblor said.

And at Muttopia, a new life can begin.

The group is now raising funds to build a medical clinic at the shelter.

Teen gets into all 8 Ivy League schools

A New Jersey teenager has to make a decision soon most high school seniors can only dream of — deciding on which Ivy League school to attend in the fall. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that she was accepted into all of them. All eight of them.

Ifeoma White-Thorpe said she was shaking when she got the eighth acceptance letter.

“I was like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, like this might be eight out of eight and I clicked it and it said ‘Congratulations’ and I was like oh my goodness!” White-Thorpe told CNN affiliate WABC-TV

White-Thorpe, a senior and student government president at Morris Hills High School in Rockaway, has to choose between Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Dartmouth and Brown.

She wants to study biology and pursue a career in global health. Since all of the Ivy League schools “have great research facilities,” she decided to apply to them all. Students getting into all of the Ivies is a monumental feat, but it’s happened to a handful of teens over the past couple of years — Kwasi Enin in 2014, Harold Ekeh in 2015 and Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna and Kelly Hyles last year. Her parents said the choice is totally up to her; White-Thorpe said she just doesn’t know yet. She can add another elite school to the mix as well — she also got into Stanford.

Boy, 4, uses Siri to help save mum’s life

A four-year-old boy saved his mum’s life by using her thumb to unlock her iPhone and then calling 999.

A four-year-old boy saved his mother’s life by using her thumb to unlock her iPhone and then asking it to call 999.

Roman, who lives in Kenley, Croydon, south London, used the phone’s voice control – Siri – to call emergency services.

Police and paramedics were sent to the home and were able to give live-saving first aid to his mother.

During the 999 call Roman told the operator he thought his mum was dead because “she’s closing her eyes and she’s not breathing”.

Roman, his twin brother and a younger brother were all in the house at the time.

Met Police Ch Supt Ade Adelekan said: “Hearing this call brings home the importance of teaching your young child their home address and how to call police or emergency services in an emergency situation.”