An Experience of Volunteering with Students with Learning Disabilities
By Lauren Wang
I did not expect just how much I would enjoy being the assistant for a class of students with learning disabilities until I was given the opportunity.
For my 2nd semester of 10th grade, I decided to take Leadership and Peer Support as an elective. This course allows students to serve as assistants within other classes. As my classmates were selecting their classes, the option of being the assistant for kids with learning disabilities was presented to me by my teacher. Initially, I was quite hesitant and nervous. I had never worked with students with disabilities before, and I wondered if I had the right attributes. Fortunately, my trepidations and fears soon subsided.
Each week until June, students were to meet their respective classes every day, except for Wednesdays. Accordingly, this was the day when all of us reconvened to work on leadership assignments, and partake in team-building exercises. During the first week, I was able to meet the seven students, which comprised the class, as well as, the four teachers. All of the students were close to my age. Of course, there was also Buddy, their pet rabbit.
← Buddy the bunny is resting in his cage
Initially, the students and I were shy and timid around each other, and I wondered if we could bridge this gap between us. In fact, I had noticed how the students responded to past assistants with great warmth, and secretly, I hoped I would be able to achieve this kind of bond with them. Moreover, I also wanted to bring smiles to their faces, and know them more personally.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, I assisted the students with their language assignments. In this case, I tried to help them complete their worksheets with gentle guidance and encouragement. On Thursdays, we spent the morning collecting the recycling throughout the school, and cleaned Buddy’s cage together. On Fridays, we prepared a breakfast to enjoy, followed by games while playing music. Through these activities, I was able to gain their trust and friendship. As a result, I felt like I was a part of their class. Furthermore, to my delight, I was able to bring laughter and smiles to their faces.
Honestly, seeing the students and being in their classroom made every day wonderful. At the end of the period after saying, “see you tomorrow!” to everyone, I always felt I wanted to stay longer. In fact, I remember strolling to my next class always with a skip in my step and a giant smile on my face. If I could describe the feeling, I would use the word “warmth”. I truly enjoyed spending time with them, and inquiring about their interests and pastimes.These conversations were often engaging, and very funny. They always filled me with great joy.
Being a part of their class, opened my mind. Before this course, I did not think I would be comfortable working with people with disabilities. Having gained this experience, I believe my perspective has broadened regarding my own fears and intimidations. In addition, I learned that it is important to attempt new challenges, even ones that may seem frightening. Working with the class, I also discovered that the students and I share many commonalities. We have similar interests, enjoy similar activities, watch similar movies, and live similar daily lives. Because I am a timid and quiet person, taking this leadership role was a big step. The result was most rewarding as it pushed me to be bolder, and meet more people. Lastly, taking this opportunity revealed a possible career option. In doing so, I realize that I enjoy social work, offering guidance and encouragement. After that semester, I joined Best Buddies at my school, a program that supports the pairing of people with and without disabilities, in order to develop friendship bonds.
Consequently, I tremendously cherish the time I had with them during that semester. I hope to continue this journey where I may need to step outside my comfort zone, to gain a greater perspective of others, but more importantly, of myself.
Celebrating two graduating students!