"Special" - Taking The Term Beyond A Mere Label To An Extraordinary Character

Garden Valley Collegiate
Winkler, Manitoba

By Crystal Gail (Grade 12)

The gentle hum of a hand mixer's motor fills the air as you enter room S233 in Winkler's Garden Valley Collegiate. Something unusual has caught your attention and your eyes are riveted to a mechanical crane before you. Constructed from a MECHANO set, this crane is wired to the hand mixer so that any change in the mixer's speed is immediately reflected by the crane's rate of movement. The inventor, you ask? A 17 year old special needs student named Jake.

"I am just astonished at the things he does", notes Educational Assistant Mrs. L. Peters, "That's why I say he's a brilliant kid. He just needs to be given a chance to bring it all out." Jake is currently enrolled in the Special Education Department at GVC which aims to meet the needs of handicapped students through guidance in the areas of social skills, medical needs and academics.

Since arriving at GVC last year, Jake has undergone phenomenal adjustments and made remarkable progress. Special Education teacher Mrs. Louise Braun recalls, "Jake had a very very low self-esteem when he came to school. He sat a lot with his shoulders slouched, his body posture was down and sometimes when he got very agitated he would hide in small corners. . .he did not trust people. So our challenge was to first of all establish a relationship with him and then help him learn."

Since then Jake has just blossomed! In terms of his self-esteem "It's come a long way," noted Mrs. Peters, "I think he is starting to feel. . .that he does have a place on this earth." Mrs. Braun commented "Jake is really the healthy part of our department" and those who work with him have noticed he has proven to be a very gentle, easy-going individual with an incredible sense of humor. "He can just really brighten up a person's day," Mrs. Peters remarks with a smile.

Jake's grasp of the English language has also improved. When he first arrived at GVC he didn't speak a word of English "And now", according to Mrs. Braun, "he basically understands everything we say as long as he is familiar with the activity we are describing."

Most people find a broken fan and hand mixer useless appliances. Placed under the skilled hands of Jake, however, they became functional - Jake wired them together so that the mixer served as the control switch for the fan's rotation. "Jake is very, very talented in electronics," Mrs. Braun related, "This area just shines!"

In addition to spending time learning and participating in activities with other special needs students, Jake helps with the school's recycling program and holds a job at a local company called Trainex. It is quite unusual for a special needs students to have a job at Trainex where the goal is to prepare individuals to enter the workforce. Jake spends two hours every morning at the Trainex workshop where he operates machinery. About his Trainex experience "...He is really excited. If we talk about going to work, he is ready," Mrs. Peters reported. "His supervisor there even said that he's just doing excellent."

The progress Jake has made in the last year has been remarkable. Mrs. Peters noted, "I look how far he's come, I look how he can communicate with other people. . .I can see a future in him. . .I can see there is something at the end of this tunnel and the light is getting brighter." Through his skills, job, interactions with others, and participation in activities, Jake has demonstrated that he is a dynamic and exceptional person. Even though Jake has special needs, he also has something very special to give. Perhaps liaison worker Ms. Dianne Wiebe expressed it best when she reflected "The core of Jake is sincerity and a love to laugh. I think we need to learn from that - I think he needs to teach us."

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