Two North Hall Middle School students play a round of a game called headbands. One of the students has special needs, but her classmate doesn’t mind. They both enjoy every second they can spend time together, despite their differences.
More than 100 students at North Hall Middle participate in the school’s program known as the Partners Club, which pairs together students with and without disabilities.
“The Partners Club creates lifelong friendships with us and the people in the special education program,” said Ansley Smallwood, an eighth-grader and president of the club.
Smallwood explained that her favorite part of the club is the kids and being able to interact with such loving, energetic special-needs children. The club helps not only the special-needs children learn more, she said, but the other students in the club learn about themselves and the importance of serving others.
“The part that I love about Partners Club is when we first started a few years ago, there were about 30 kids interested,” said Kristin Rainwater, faculty director of the club. “This year, I had over 170 applications for kids that wanted to be involved in the club.”
The club participates in several field trips throughout the school year, including visiting Mule Camp and the Georgia Aquarium and attending bowling and track and field Special Olympics events. It raises money through fundraisers, including candy grams before Valentine’s Day and selling T-shirts through Cotton-Eyed Joe’s, a custom T-shirt company in Gainesville.
The club does a lot of team-building activities and community outreach events that will help the special-needs children with communication and leadership skills. If a teacher wants a special-needs student to reach a particular goal in a school subject, the other kids might help with reading or a math worksheet. This helps the teachers and the special-needs students, but it also helps the other students with guidance and leadership skills.
“This club will help in the future with not only my people skills, but if I decide to pursue a career working with special needs kids,” said Ty Smith, vice president of the club. “This will also help me learn what the kids’ strengths and weaknesses are, so I can learn something about them.”
Smith regularly helps take children places and spends quality time with the students.
“To me, it is awesome that these kids want to be involved with these students that are obviously different than them,” Rainwater said. “And there is there no incentive for them to want to do it, other than it’s just what their hearts want to do.”