- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

DOLLAR BAY, Mich. (AP) - The third-grade class at Thomas R. Davis Elementary School in Dollar Bay is so impressive to the members of the Copper Country Intermediate School District Parent Advisory Committee, an award was created just for the students, according to Christina Norland.

Norland, who is K-12 principal for the Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools, said the students in Marissa Kentala’s class have been helping out with an autistic student named Alex.

When the PAC members heard what Kentala’s students were doing, Norland said they felt they had to acknowledge the children’s efforts by creating the first ever Spirit of Inclusion Award, The Daily Mining Gazette (https://bit.ly/1OkFfGd ) reported.

“They were so moved by what our students did,” she said.

Norland said she is also impressed with the fact the students are helping Alex without any persuasion.

“They do it naturally,” she said.

Kentala said students at the school move through each grade together until they graduate, and the other students have been helping Alex since they started at the school.

“They’ve been very supportive of him since kindergarten,” she said.

When Kentala asked at the beginning of this school year if any of the students would like would like to take part in the school’s Peer to Peer program to help Alex in her class, she expected two or three would volunteer, but she was surprised by the response.

“Instead, the entire class volunteered immediately,” she said.

Kentala said among other things the students play with Alex, sit with him at lunch, and give him gentle reminders to check his daily schedule.

Since the school year began, Kentala said the help the students have given Alex is having a positive effect.

“We see progress every day,” she said.

Kentala said Alex doesn’t often speak, but he does seem to enjoy the help the students give him.

Besides the students, Kentala said she and paraprofessionals Katie Laplander and Rae Lamamen work with Alex. also.

One of the students working with Alex is Evelyn Moilanen, who said she enjoys spending time with Alex.

“It’s actually pretty nice working with him,” she said.

Evelyn said Alex sometimes communicates with the other students.

“We talk with him at lunch,” she said.

Evelyn said she expects to continue to work with Alex as they advance through the grades in the school system.

Norland said the award the students received was well deserved.

“I think it is fantastic,” she said.

___

Information from: The Daily Mining Gazette, https://www.mininggazette.com

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