- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

SEYMOUR, Ind. (AP) - As a new classroom instructional assistant at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School this year, Josh Speidel takes his job seriously.

But not so serious that the 19-year-old doesn’t smile, laugh and cut up with students and staff.

His sense of humor in the face of great physical, mental and emotional challenges is inspiring to both the students and co-workers with whom he now works.

“I like Josh a lot, because he’s fun and makes us laugh by joking around,” student Ciera Robinson said. “Even though he’s not as strong physically, he’s able to help us with our schoolwork.”

Just eight months ago, Speidel’s family and friends wondered whether he would even live after he was involved in a car crash near Taylorsville that left him with a traumatic head injury and in a coma.

Not one to give up, the former Columbus North High School basketball standout has fought back. Working with a group of therapists, he has relearned to walk and talk. In June, he graduated with his classmates, even getting out of his wheelchair to walk across the stage to accept his diploma.

He continues to receive physical, occupational, and speech and cognitive therapy three times a week.

Speidel spends two days a week in teacher Jennifer Regruth’s fourth-grade classroom, helping students with spelling and vocabulary words, reading and writing lessons, math problems, science questions and whatever else they ask of him. He’s even ventured down to the kindergarten rooms to be of assistance there too.

His job is helping him in many ways, said his mother, Lisa Speidel, who is assistant principal at Brown.

“Since Josh was little, he’s always been a part of a team, whether it was baseball or basketball or whatever activity he was involved in,” she said. “But after the wreck, he lost that. Now he gets to be a part of the Brown team and be a part of that again. He’s making connections and activating parts of his brain that were injured.”

Regruth said she assigns Speidel to lead small groups at stations with two to four students at a time. Together, they go over literary and math skills by playing games and practicing with flash cards, among other activities, she added.

“He’s always smiling when he comes in, and you can just feel the mood lift,” she said. “The kids are always smiling when he’s here.”

Student Brishan Patrick said working with Speidel gives her more confidence.

“He’s a good influence,” she said. “He helps me with learning multiplication and practicing for spelling tests and in reading when I don’t know a word.”

Sometimes Speidel will read to the students, asking them questions about the story as he goes, but he prefers to have them read to him.

Alyx Cockerham said she and her classmates are lucky to have Speidel there.

“He’s really inspired me,” she said. “He kept trying and didn’t give up, so I know I can’t give up when something is too hard.”

As he holds up a math flash card, “6 x 12,” the students chime in with the correct answer - 72.

“Now are you sure, because that’s a big one,” he jokes. “You don’t want to change your mind?”

Although he had never given a thought to a career in education before, Speidel said his experiences at Brown are making him consider it now.

“I love it,” he said. “Brown School and Seymour have done so much for me and my family, and I want to say thank-you to everyone that’s had a part in that.”

Brown Principal Tony Hack said Speidel gives everyone a better perspective on life and what’s important.

“True perseverance and determination is not something we usually have to live with,” Hack said. “But Josh exemplifies it with a quiet strength.”

Speidel said his favorite part of the day is getting to answer students’ questions, helping them and “just being with them.”

He gets a lot of high-fives and hugs from the kids.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” he said. “But I think it’s a perfect fit.”

While in school at Columbus, Speidel said he always excelled at math, so he enjoys helping students with their math problems now, especially those students who may be struggling.

Lisa Speidel said her son continues to make “great strides” in his recovery, including getting his normal vision back and getting to remove a leg brace.

The therapy can be grueling at times, but Josh Speidel said he likes the challenge.

Another benefit of working in the classroom is that it’s helping with his communication skills. Although Speidel is making a big impact in students’ lives, he sees it another way.

“They are making a bigger difference in mine,” he said.


Source: The (Seymour) Tribune, https://bit.ly/1OTsOUO


Information from: The (Seymour) Tribune, https://www.tribtown.com

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