Being friends despite differences

North Platte, Neb. (KNOP) - Elementary students in the North Platte School District are learning tolerance and acceptance - and forming friendships, according to students, teachers, and professionals; as the inclusion program continues.

"Our goal is - we want everybody to learn from each other. We want them to learn tolerance, acceptance, and those type of things," said Peggy Romshek, North Platte Public Schools' Director of Special Services supervising the Special Education Program.

She said everyone is doing a great job adapting to the changes. Prior to the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year this fall, special needs students were taught and cared for separately at Cody Elementary, with minimal interaction with regular education students. After an inclusion process was implemented, students with special needs were integrated into the regular education classrooms.

Students have responded well. While a perfect system is seldom possible, kids in the fourth grade classroom at Cody Elementary have loved having two of the special needs children join them this fall. Ayla Schultz and Connor Preitauer have very different needs, but they are very much an equal part of the fourth grade class.

And students there say they would be very sad if they weren't.

"It would be horrible if they weren't in our class," agreed three of the students. "They light up our day."

Connor and Ayla spend time together and enjoy activities. But the other kids feel the same about the two students. They take turns reading to Ayla and pushing her around in her wheelchair. Students say Connor tells great jokes and it is fun to play tag with him.

And so, it seems, that each of the children have gifts to offer. And it seems as if they are learning from each other.

Ayla's dad, Rodney Schultz, said, "She gets to interact with kids and have as normal a life as she can. I just appreciate this school - how they've been working with her, and how the kids just interact with her. It's a good deal."

Mrs. Sarah Lewis, fourth grade teacher at Cody Elementary said that the other children have really enjoyed the change. She said having Ayla and Connor in the classroom has not only helped them socially, but also academically, because when the students help each other with math facts - that it helps everyone.

"The other children have really embraced Ayla and Connor. There's one little kiddo who really has taking a liking to Ayla, and he sits next to her and he will do his math facts with her, and he will read to her out loud and he pushes her around on the playground. And when I know that he's rough and tough boy, and he would probably rather be playing football, but he chooses to spend his time with Ayla."