Rockhurst senior Dominic Ammatelli sits in room 416 with junior and special education student Jack Melvin, working on Jack’s math homework: a worksheet on how to count quarters and dollars. After counting up everything correctly, Ammatelli gives Melvin a high five and encourages him to keep working.
Working with Melvin and other special education students has been an everyday routine for the past two weeks for Ammatelli, along with two other Rockhurst seniors, Mike Aldaco and Max McLiney. The seniors are at East for their senior service project, a program through Rockhurst that allows students to gain service hours while gaining different perspectives, according to Ammatelli. During the three week project, instead of attending their academic classes, they spend their weekdays volunteering.
According to Ammatelli, every senior at Rockhurst participated in the senior service project, but not all of them went to East. Some volunteered at grade schools, retirement homes, soup kitchens, and even out of the country building houses in Tijuana and Guatemala.
The seniors follow the students to their classes and help them with their classwork and homework in all subjects, ranging from geography to geometry. Along with this, they work in the coffee shop with the students.
“Seeing all the teachers giving [sophomore Robbie Crook] a really nice smile and always greeting him is so fun. Even students, when he walks in the classroom, enjoy seeing him,” Aldaco said. “It’s like his everyday thing.”
The seniors spend their fourth hour with all of the special education students. In the classroom, they each get to focus on one or two students.
While working on math homework, Aldaco holds a calculator up to junior Amanda Vahle so that she can clearly see it, and although she doesn’t ask for much help, he assists her when she needs it and makes sure she understands the material.
Over the course of their time at East, Ammatelli has learned that students with special needs “are people that you should just treat as other people.”
“It’s not so much that they have special needs,” Ammatelli said. “They just have special gifts.”
The seniors will be leaving East on Tuesday, January 23. Although their time with the special education students is ending shortly, Ammatelli, Aldaco, and McLiney will hold memories of singing with the students during class and holding long conversations about world wars for a lifetime.
“This senior service has been jaw dropping,” McLiney said. “[The special education students] have opened my eyes to realizing that they are a part of this world just like we are and want to be treated like everyone else.”