Nice to meet you

This month, the Falconer takes a look at a couple TPHS programs that merge the general and special education programs on campus — Daffodils for Disability, Sparkle, Best Buddies and COAST.

Daffodils for Disabilities

Just as the yellow trumpets begin to emerge from the burgeoning greens, so has the Daffodils for Disabilities club blossomed into a supportive community for students enrolled in the TPHS Special Education Department.

The club’s founder, Aleyna Laba (12), had the idea at the start of the school year to alleviate prejudices that students with disabilities face on campus. She witnessed first-handed this discrimination, growing up with her father, who sustained a spinal cord injury.

“I have seen the prejudices people with disabilities face through my family,” Laba said. “I knew that was an issue within my school and community that I could try and solve.” 

Each month, the club members volunteer with different organizations focused on special education while cultivating a close-knit group on campus with these students. In November, the club held its first lunch meeting on campus, during which members spent time with students in the program. The lunch period was spent playing board games, working on classwork and forming connections in a “judgment free-zone.”

“Befriending the students who have learning disabilities and getting to know them on a level that goes beyond their learning differences is what [makes the club] so valuable,” Laba said.

The club collaborates with other nonprofits like Hope for the Warriors and Easterseals. Through activities like creating uplifting cards, they aim to support children and adults with disabilities.

Many students have joined Daffodils for Disabilities after being drawn to the club’s involvement in an underrepresented community on campus.

“I wanted to make a difference in my community and do something where I can help other people with disabilities,” Alisha Patel (11) said.

Patel’s goal has motivated her to encourage other students to treat their peers respectfully to break down barriers to a more inclusive student body.

Just as the full-bloomed yellow trumpets dance happily in the wind, the Daffodils of Disabilities club will continue to spread compassion and bring awareness to the Special Education Department at TPHS.

Sparkle

The TPHS Sparkle program gives all students a chance to shine. As an all-inclusive cheer team on campus, Sparkle works closely with the TPHS cheer team to promote inclusivity and kindness. 

At Sparkle meetings, attendees build relationships and make memories. Each member of the cheer team is paired up with a special education student as each other’s “buddies.” Together, they practice cheers and chants that are performed  at pep rallies and sports performances. 

The buddy system gives general education and special education students a chance to form relationships that would have otherwise been lost. For Farhan Labbafi (11), a student in the TPHS Special Education Department, Sparkle gives him an opportunity to connect with his peers. 

“My favorite part [about having a buddy] is being able to hang out during lunch,” Labbafi said. 

To Indie Fraser (12), president of the Sparkle Program, these connections are the secret to the Sparkle Program’s shine. 

“You’re with that [same] buddy for the whole year so [you can] really form a bond with them,” Fraser said. 

At the meetings, special education students are given the opportunity to showcase their dance moves.

“We form a circle around them and cheer them on,” Fraser said.

The buddies in the program often practice for weeks before a performance, so they can perfect the choreography for their big debuts. The Sparkle Program hopes to perform at girls basketball games and the Spring Sports Pep Rally. 

In the past, Sparkle has taken their performances off campus to Miracle League, which is a non-profit that provides children with special needs a chance to play baseball in an organized league. This allows students in the special education program to be mainstreamed into general education programs and activities. 

“I get to create memories throughout high school.” Labbaffi said. 

Through Sparkle, all students can make meaningful memories, cheering, laughing and dancing together.

Best Buddies

Upon entering Room 13 or 14 on Tuesday during lunch, students spend time dancing together while others watch movies, marking the beginning of new friendships and connections. 

Best Buddies is a club that works to provide these memorable moments. The organization pledges to build one-on-one relationships with students with developmental disabilities.

The TPHS club branch shares this philosophy. At the beginning of each meeting, members pair up with students from the Special Education Department. After a series of icebreakers,  they engage in multiple community activities.

“I enjoy the love and sense of support that there is. We all want to be inclusive, have fun with each other and make new friends,” the club’s secretary, Mikalah Hanna (12), said. 

The club’s inclusivity attracts participation from the TPHS student body.

“I have only been part of the club since the end of last year, and there is already so much inclusivity,” Aleyna Laba (12), the club’s vice president, said. “People tell their friends about our meetings, and they end up coming back again.” 

Anahi Lazaro (9), a student in the special education program, joined Best Buddies this fall. 

“[I joined Best Buddies] to become friends with others and meet new people,” Lazaro said. 

The time spent in the Best Buddies program builds memories and close friends. For that reason, Best Buddies hopes to have a greater presence on campus.

“I want to spread the word of the club to get as many members as possible that are willing to show support,” Laba said.

In a bustling classroom where friendships last, Best Buddies promotes inclusivity and provides a safe space for a variety of individuals.

COAST

Many students at TPHS have post-graduation plans of going to college, taking a gap year or backpacking through Europe, but these plans may look different for students in the special education department.  Community Opportunities for Adult Students in Transition is an initiative within SDUHSD that provides a further level of education for these students. 

MaryJeanette Lindebak, a special education teacher at TPHS, can date her time teaching young adults back to 2001, when she helped found COAST. 

“The program is for students who still need support and probably will never have a full time job or be able to go to college,” Lindebak said. 

COAST provides students from ages 18 to 22 the essentials of a college-level education for free. Funded directly through SDUHSD, the program is a popular option for students. There are currently 45 students enrolled at COAST, gaining about 12 new students each year from both TPHS and LCC.

“You could say about 95% of students [from TPHS] decide to go to COAST after their senior year. This year, there’s 46 kids in the program, so it’s quite a few students that should be going,” Lindebak said. 

Not only do students attending COAST receive an interactive learning experience, but they are also offered the chance to hone the skills necessary for living more independently after high school.

“[COAST’s] agency might ask: what job skills are [our students] going to be able to do? From that, they work with the parents and students on what the best fit for that student is,” Lindebak said. “Maybe there’s a local volunteer placement for them. Or maybe they could take on a more mobile, hands-on job that fits their needs.” 

After two decades of the program’s existence and five years retiring from her position as an on-site teacher, Lindebak reminisces warmly on her time at COAST.

“I got to start the program and I taught there for 16 years. I absolutely loved that program and everything that it stood for,” Lindebak said. 

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