by Danie Weaver
So many times connections are made through a screen. However recently I was able to break that trend and host a student council event at Vasona Park in Los Gatos. Now I know what you are thinking why would you take a group of special needs individuals to a place outside where anything can happen? I know the hesitation of taking an individual with special needs to a new place. I have a younger sister with special needs. My parents knew very well how a new environment could be hit or miss with my sister,
but that never discouraged them from exposing us to new places. We were constantly going to parks, zoos, National Parks, and theme parks. If it was outside we went to it.
Allowing our special individuals to walk around at Vasona allows them to look at the world a little differently. One example is the conversations we had at that event. This conversation was about life jackets and my student insisted that he was a good swimmer and didn’t need a life vest. We were walking by the paddle boats and the students commented on the orange vest peoples were wearing. I assured the student that even the best swimmers could get tired, it would still be important to wear a life vest. Another time we spent a good deal of time discussing why bridges were important. These students read signs about why it is imp
ortant not to feed the wildlife. They identified animals, walked around, and interacted with other park goers. But most importantly they were able to create connections with other students that were not behind a screen.
I enjoy these outings as much as the students because I get a chance to learn about our students in a way that’s outside the classroom. In the classroom, I am often guiding them to the correct answer but when we go out to parks with these students they are forced to put the correct answer together on their own. The wonderful thing about the park excursions is that there doesn’t need to be a correct answer. These outings are beneficial for our students because they form bonds with their fellow students that cannot be formed in a classroom. It’s real and genuine; much like one of my students who attended the activity informed everyone that he did not like ducks. Now the entire group made sure the ducks did not get too close. Instead of teasing because this student, the group helped make him feel safe. Sometimes the classroom environment can be one of competition where the students feel they must answer the most questions or dance closest to the teacher. A day outside observing everything that nature, there was no hierarchy, no competition, no trying to impress anyone, just enjoying a day at the park.