Peet eighth grader building connections to help others enjoy afterschool activities

Peet eighth grader Alexis Hesse participates in volleyball, track, and softball and wants to share the benefits of being involved with her peers.

Peet eighth grader Alexis Hesse has created a new idea to get special needs students more involved in activities and extracurriculars at school.

“My buddy system is basically a system where a special needs student gets paired with another student in sports or after school activity. My goal is to get the special needs students more involved,” Hesse said.

Hesse said she understands how her outside of school activities have made her a better student and wants to share that with these students as well. “It is proven that the more involved you are in school, the better you do. It is also important to get involved because you can learn valuable life lessons and create strong relationships you wouldn’t have made otherwise,” Hesse said.

Hesse said her inspiration for this idea came when she was looking around her school. “I had also been noticing some students had been being rude and disrespectful to special needs students, and I wanted them to know that there are people here at Peet who care and want them to get involved,” Hesse said.

Hesse made a connection with one student in particular, and that fueled her desire for this plan more than anything. “I got the idea for this plan when I actually high fived a special needs student named Travis. Every time I see Travis, he always smiles and gives me a high five. Not only do I make him smile, but he makes me smile as well. After that I just started thinking about how I could help,” Hesse said.

Hesse first presented her idea to her ELP teacher, Sarah Cooper, because it fit in perfectly with the unit they were discussing. Then she shared the idea with a special needs teacher at Peet, Lori Engel. Both teachers admire Hesse’s creativity and boldness to go after her idea and advocate for it the way she does.

Many steps have to be completed to get her idea enforced, but Hesse has been a go-getter in this process. “I am in the works of sharing my idea with the students and parents. We had to gather permission slips and set up class times that would work,” Hesse said. “Although I haven’t been able to get my plan completely rolling, I have been working hard. I have also had some new doors open to me due to my effort. I was invited to help at the state paralympics, which I am really excited for.”

In addition to getting permission slips, Hesse needed to get more buddies to help out. “I talked to a few of my friends who thought this was a great idea. I also gathered a few guys who were willing to help because they knew what it was like to be left out. I really just had to talk to people and spread the word. I got shut down a lot, but I eventually found the right people. I am always looking for buddies,” Hesse said.

Lori Engel, a special needs teacher at Peet, was very inspired by Hesse’s plan. “When I first heard about the plan, I was very touched that a Peet student was concerned that special needs peers at Peet should be more represented and included in school activities,” Engel said.

Engel said she not only sees the benefits of this outside of school, but also in the hallways of Peet Junior High. “I believe this plan will encourage students with special needs or others that may feel left out to participate in school activities, especially if they have a buddy. It would be awesome to see this spread to more ‘hellos’ in the hallway and maybe encourage more interaction at lunch and in classes, such as PE. When students are part of a school sport or activity, they feel more connected to school. This could positively impact school attendance and achievement,” Engel said.

Due to confidentiality concerns, this idea hasn’t been able to go into full effect yet, but Engel said she is excited and thinks her students will be too to be asked by their peers to get more involved and active.

Engel said she is also proud of Hesse and can’t wait to see the impact she will make on her peers. “When peers start to see the work Alexis is doing, I hope this will influence others to reach out to students that may be perceived as different at school and help give them a sense of belonging. Peet students will discover that they have many things in common,” Engel said.

Hesse admits that it’s been hard to get this program up and running at Peet, but she would love to expand it to other schools. “If I had help at the other schools, I would totally start this program. I am already struggling to get this project up and running. If I were to try and get this going at other schools I would get a leader at that school to help organize everything. I would check in with them to see how it’s going,” Hesse said.

Those interested in involvement or helping Hesse expand her buddy system to other schools can contact her at 21alehes@student.cfschools.org.

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