Truckee High student integrates special and general ed population

Christina Nemec
Special to the Sun
Courtesy Christina Nemec

TRUCKEE, Calif. — In a word association game, the term “high school” would usually generate recollections of proms, cafeteria lunches, or detention. However, students working in Room 104 at Truckee High School are busy creating a unique experience. Thanks to Fiona Delforge, a Truckee High School senior, and special day class instructor, Kathryn Markovchick, students have an opportunity to earn course credit while working with their peers in the special day classroom. This program, which was launched on Jan. 25, has opened the door for students with disabilities to interact with the general education high school population. Similarly, the program has also offered the general education population the chance to develop a deeper understanding of those with disabilities.

“Still waters run deep” is a saying that best fits Fiona Delforge. Residing inside this quiet senior sporting cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, and a silver belt buckle is an ambitious young lady. This senior has offered Kathryn Markovchic important feedback from the Peer Mentor perspective. She even brings with her own service dog, Oliver, to school. Fiona credits her mother, who worked as a caregiver, for inspiration. Also, from her uncle and cousin, who are both blind, Fiona has learned what disabled people need. “They can’t have everything handed to them,” she said, “They need to grow.”

The classroom contains laundry facilities and a kitchen. Mentors assist in independent living skills. Mentors also support the special day class fundraising efforts of baking “Bone Appetite” doggie treats — which are sold locally at Ace Hardware and New Moon. Additionally, peer mentors are busy helping special day students navigate the crowded Truckee High hallways to general education classes. They are diving into art, cooking, and physical education. They are even dissecting sharks. Best of all, they are getting a more authentic high school experience.

According to Kathryn Markovchick, the benefits of this program extend beyond academics for everyone. “Now everybody knows us. It’s ‘hellos’ and high fives all along the halls.”

Stephanie Vazquez, a peer mentor who plans to work with students with disabilities in the future, is getting the chance to begin her career early. “It’s my goal. One time, I helped Martha cook. She hugged me,” said Stephanie with a broad smile.

Daisy Rivera agrees. “It makes my day go so much better. I have learned they are not that different.”

Looking toward next year, Fiona will be graduating. She plans a life of working with special needs students. Her hope is this valuable program remains strong long after she leaves. “What Kathryn does is so unbelievable,” Fiona said.

“A lot of kids think this is just going to be an easy ‘A.’ But no one understands these kids until you interact with them. Then they open up a whole new world and give you a new perspective. These kids … I’m not changing them,” she decides with conviction. “They’re changing me.”

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