Approximately 1,900 students walk the halls of Apple Valley High School everyday. With a student body that large, it’s hard to truly know everyone. This is especially true for a vibrant classroom nestled in a corner of the building, home to a group of students you may not know.
Apple Valley’s special education program started back in 2004 and continues to thrive within the school today. “Up until then, Rosemount High School and Eagan High School were the only two schools in the district that had center-based programs,” said special education teacher Tami Taylor.
After the first year of the program’s existence, a few teachers came together to pilot a new activity called Friday Friends. This activity was targeted to bring together AVHS students from all walks of life.
The idea was sparked from a student who saw one of his classmates with a cognitive disability who didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch. From there, he began to invite that classmate to his lunch table and their friendship began to grow.
Soon, they had taken this student under their wing and began to invite more students to eat lunch with them. From this simple invitation grew something much larger–and so it became Friday Friends.
“At the time, I was the only center-based teacher, so my students didn’t really leave my classroom,” said Taylor. “Friday Friends was a great way for them to get interaction with peers and do fun things.”
Pat Iverson was one of the teachers who started the activity. “Our goal is to make everyone feel like Apple Valley is their school, to provide more connections for kids with other kids outside their normal classrooms,” she said. “And that goes both ways.” Friday Friends became a way for students to have peer interaction with students they wouldn’t typically see, while doing fun games, crafts, or other activities.
Today, Friday Friends is as much of an activity for those in the special education program as it is for those who are not. “Everyone needs role models, so if you only hang out with people who are just like you, you don’t learn to stretch,” Iverson said. “And I don’t think you learn to accept and understand people as well.”
Senior Ashley Knapp is a part of the Developmental Psychology program and gets to spend every other Friday with the students.“I think it’s really important,” said Knapp about Friday Friends. “Us going there for an hour on every other Friday could be the only time that they get to interact with other students and feel like a real part of the school.”
At Apple Valley, the teachers and staff work hard to make the special education program as similar to a normal high school experience as it can be. In fact, a typical day for a student in the program looks a lot like the average student’s school day.
“We do our best at Apple Valley to have them have seven class periods just like a typical high school student,” said Taylor.
The fact is, the students in the special education program are just like any other normal high school student. They like the same teams, shows, movies, games and music as every other high school student.
“My favorite part of school is getting to hang out with my friends,” said Antonio Rosax a student in the program. “The most difficult part of school for me is that I always look around instead of focusing on my paper; I get distracted.”
“I like that at Apple Valley I get to see all my friends and talk about the different classes we take,” Rosax continued. “Especially in gym class.”
At the end of the day, no matter how different we may seem on the outside, we all share a unique bond that is the human experience. Apple Valley’s special education program is one of its strongest assets. It goes to show that AVHS would not be the school and community it is without each and every dedicated student and staff member.