Three Shawnee Mission School District students are being recognized by their teachers for their passion and dedication to the Cadet program.
These individuals are all Cadets in the Alternate Assessment program- a special education program that focuses on academic, social and vocational skills.
The Cadets are all general education students who assist the special education teachers and students reach their goals.
“A lot of time [the special education students’] main classes- science, math, english- are with the same people that they’ve been with- sometimes- since elementary school,” explains Meredith Marlier, a special education teacher at Shawnee Mission West. “So, the Cadet program offers a chance for people to come in and make new connections, make new friendships, that extend well beyond these classroom doors. They’ll be in clubs together, they’ll eat lunch together, they’ll say ‘hi’ in the hallway- and being able to facilitate those natural friendships which are so vital, is just really important.”
Rylee Courter is a junior at Shawnee Mission South and works in Julie Hochler’s life skills class. Rylee got started in the Cadet program as a sophomore but has been helping in the special education program since elementary school.
“I just love seeing [the students] overcome their challenges and helping them,” says Rylee. “It’s my favorite part of my day, coming in here.”
But, it’s not just Rylee’s students who benefit from her participation.
“Rylee has really blossomed,” says Mrs. Hochler. “She is so much more confident than she was last year and she just really gets it. And it’s just so great to really see her, even outside of the classroom, being so much more confident.”
Abby Klein is a senior at Shawnee Mission Northwest and started in the Cadet program through a happy accident.
“At the beginning of my junior year I was in a class that wasn’t a great fit for me,” explains Abby. “I struggle with social anxiety and I talked to my counselor and she mentioned Cadet teaching. She had explained it in a way that it seemed like tutoring. So, I said, ‘sure, I’ll do it’. When I went into the class for the first time it was completely different from what I thought it was but, it’s been great ever since. It was a good accident.”
Abby works in Debbie Jenkins social skills class. She is partnered with just one student, Maddie Ray. Maddie also struggles with social anxiety and is developmentally disabled. Since teaming up, Abby and Maddie have formed a friendship that extends outside of Shawnee Mission Northwest.
“It’s hard to get her with people where she can have a relationship and doesn’t get anxious,” says Maddie’s mom, Kris Ray. “So, Abby has provided that for her. She’s super calm, nothing ruffles her feathers, she just kind of goes with the flow and that’s exactly what Maddie needs.”
Karla Acosta is a senior at Shawnee Mission West and in her second year as a cadet teacher. She’s always had a passion for helping others and found the Cadet program to be a perfect fit.
“Before I became a cadet I still wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” says Karla. “And then, once I became a cadet I realized that I love doing this, and I love being here, and like, helping out, and being a teacher, and just helping, so now I'm going to be aiming for being a special education teacher at the high school level.”
Karla has gone above and beyond for her students and attends their activities outside of school hours to support them.
“At the science fair, she had worked on a project with one of our students,” says Meredith Marlier, a special education teacher at Shawnee Mission West. “And then, we had the science fair where they presented and [her student] presented by himself, but Karla was there for support the whole time and that’s fantastic because that’s what friends do for each other. So, not only does she get a little invested in the projects as well, but she wants to watch them succeed and that’s what a teacher does, right? Stand back, watch the kids succeed and then beam with pride and I see that in Karla already.”