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Mentoring Students with Disabilities

Gabriella Helkowski headshot

Gabriella Helkowski

Being mentored as a student with a disability and mentoring students with disabilities has changed my life. I have always been the student with the learning disabilities and the one being helped when I struggled with various schoolwork and activities. I always wanted to have the same experiences as my classmates and mentors helped me be included. As a mentor to students with disabilities, I was able to help others be included, too.

In second grade, my classmates and I had to read an autobiography dressed up as our historical figure. Mine was Helen Keller. Parents came and watched our 3-minute talks. I was so anxious as I struggled to read and speak clearly during my presentation. My learning support teacher, Mrs. Lindenfelser, made sure that I would be able to be part of this important second grade event. Every day she set aside time to read with me —as painful as it was—and ensured that I understood. At the end of the book, we wrote and practiced what I was going to say about Helen Keller. That day I felt equal to my peers, a feeling that I had not felt before.

Another memorable moment when I was positively impacted by a mentor was in high school. I was part of the cross-country team. I tried my best, but I did not always have the endurance to finish the race. Mr. Noyes, our coach, was encouraging, and made us all feel a part of the team. When it came time for 3 of the top runners and one alternate to go to the cross-country state competition, I knew who would be selected. Never in a million years, did I expect to hear my name announced as the alternate! I started to cry. I was so excited to be part of this wonderful journey. Although our team did not need the alternate to participate, I still felt part of the Quaker Valley team. My teammates chose me to carry our trophy off the bus!

Mrs. Lindenfelser and Coach Noyes gave me experiences that I might never have had otherwise. They helped me see how students with disabilities can flourish with the right kind of support. Students with disabilities benefit from mentoring with schoolwork, as well as support with life skills.

Through various programs, I became a mentor to students with disabilities. Through Best Buddies, one of the students I mentored was Doug. Doug is non-speaking and has difficulty with physical activity. He really enjoyed being social. After spending time together, Doug quickly began to trust me. With my guidance, he helped staff around the building, attended football games, and escorted me to the prom. Doug was able to participate in most high school events. Mentoring programs help ensure all students are included.

Being a mentor to students with disabilities allowed me to help them build relationships and friendships with their classmates, teachers, paraprofessionals and building staff. Being a mentee and then a mentor made a true impact on my life!

Meet the Author

Gabriella Helkowski

Gabriella Helkowski is a Faith Inclusion and Belonging Apprentice in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Fall 2022. She graduated with her Bachelor of the Arts degree from Mercyhurst University. When not working, she likes to spend time with her friends and family, photography, cooking and traveling.

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