Senior works with special needs students, grows through experience

Danielle Williams, Entertainment Editor

Senior Ashleigh Bryson makes her mark by donating her time and energy towards special needs students. Bryson said working with these students has changed her life and taught her lessons she will carry with her forever.
Bryson first got involved with special needs students her sophomore year.
“I went to do peer tutoring, and I got to work with [senior] Johnny Nugent,” Bryson said. “Then Mrs. [Kim] Gearon, one of the [paraprofessionals], told me to apply to Helpers, Inc.”
Helpers, Inc. is a program that assigns people to a special needs student.
“They assigned me to [Blue Valley West junior] Meg [Shelton],” Bryson said. “So we just kind of hang out, and we work off her parents schedule.”
Shelton is diagnosed with Down syndrome, but Bryson said they call it “get-down” syndrome.
Bryson spends two hours with Shelton every day.
“We are like the same person, even though [Shelton] has Down syndrome,” Bryson said.
Shelton said they play football, basketball and Just Dance together.
“Ashleigh is my best friend,” Shelton said.
Along with Helpers, Inc., Bryson is also enrolled in Peer Tutoring and Interpersonal Skills at BV.
“In Peer Tutoring, I’m in broadcast with Johnny Nugent, so we just attempt to do what the other students do in the class,” Bryson said. “In Interpersonal Skills, we just work on social skills with students.”
Spanish teacher Tina Martinat had Ashleigh as a freshman in her Spanish 2.5 class.
“She was a typical freshman and just a little ornery,” Martinat said. “But I could tell she had some really good qualities about her.”
Martinat said Bryson is extremely good with special needs students, and she has seen a profound change in Bryson since she began working with them.
“I really believe that she has a way of seeing when maybe some kids are being left out, and maybe somebody needs a little TLC,” Martinat said. “She has just a very special way of making kids feel included.”
Bryson said working with these students has definitely changed her life, and she has learned so much through her experiences.
“They really make you look at life through a different perspective and see things in a different way,” she said. “You start to put others before you and understand that we all have our own disabilities — you just have to work around them.”
Bryson is involved in multiple programs outside of school, as well.
“I spend a lot of time with other students like Mrs. Martinat’s son, Joe [Martinat],” Bryson said. “We do the Down syndrome walks together, and I volunteer at the Down Syndrome Guild.”
Martinat said when one of her sons was getting married, she asked Bryson to come along to help take care of Joe, who also has Down syndrome.
“I knew as mother of the groom I was going to be really involved, and I wanted to enjoy my older son getting married,” she said. “[Bryson] came along, and she was there for the rehearsal dinner and there for 10 to 11 hours on the wedding day.”
Martinat said Bryson was extremely attentive to Joe’s needs, and it seemed as though she had taken care of him forever.
“Many of my family members commented on how good [Bryson] was with Joe,” Martinat said. “She could perceive when maybe I needed to be doing something for my son or whatever. I trusted her so much.”
A typical day for Bryson includes going to her classes and then attending Interpersonal Skills and Peer Tutoring. Right after school she picks up Shelton, and they either go to football, Deanna Rose or Petland. Then she goes to her second job at Buckle before finally returning home.
Bryson said getting involved and making your mark, like Principal Scott Bacon said, is very important.
“You don’t want to go all four years just trying to fit in with the people you hung out with before high school,” Bryson said. “When you find something that you love, you can spend your time pursuing it. Because I found [Shelton] and these other students, I know what I want to do with my life.”
Bryson said she doesn’t know what career she wants to pursue, but she knows she wants to work with people.
“I kind of want to go into psychology, and that’s all because of the special needs students,” Bryson said. “At the same time, I don’t want to do it as a job because I do it for fun.”
Martinat said Bryson has taught her that when kids come through her classroom as freshmen, they are definitely going to change.
“This girl has changed from, ‘It’s all about me,’ to, ‘It’s all about you,’” she said. “She has grown into a beautiful lady both inside and out, and she has a heart you just can’t believe.”