Turning A Passion Into Fulfilling Work: How A High School Junior Assists Another Community

Turning A Passion Into Fulfilling Work: How A High School Junior Assists Another Community

Jack Huot

Manning’s leaming smile radiated through the facetime call. Her positive attitude and energy both worked effortlessly in reaching me through the phone. The different highlights of brown gleamed through her hair as she frequently moved while talking to me; she seemed authentically involved in the conversation, or else she wouldn’t be moving her hands as much as she was.

Though friends off the clock, Audrey Manning and I held a very civil interview yesterday discussing her passion for working with children with disabilities, and what she has learned from specific experiences. A local high school junior, Audrey, utilized the ’Unified Sports’ class to connect directly with her passion routinely. But before high school, she found that connecting to people with disabilities came naturally to her. 

Lily, a close family friend of Audrey’s, who also has down syndrome made her way into Audrey’s life through a shared church. On church camping retreats, Lily was put into the same cabin as Audrey. To her delight, she was excited to engage in conversation with Lily as she found it easy to connect with her. While other people may have a difficult time connecting to Lily, Audrey seems to do it with ease. 

“You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how nice it is to talk to people outside your circle of friends,” she said as she reflected on the ‘Unified Sports’ class. “Interacting with people that you didn’t know existed can not only help you build a support system but also expand your

Not only has the class given Audrey new friends, but it opened her up to new skills that will help her pursue a major in special education in college. Upon beginning the course, Audrey walked in and found out that there wasn’t a set structure, which pushed her out of her comfort zone. This encouraged her to talk to people she didn’t know, which would ultimately help her form friendships.

Everyone has had mixed emotions about distance learning and the year 2021 as a whole. For Audrey, logging onto the class only improved her collaboration and communication skills.

“In online school, you were shuffled into different breakout rooms and groups;” she said, delivering perfect eye contact as she continued to talk. “Sometimes you weren’t put in a group with a teacher which forced students to take initiative themselves and become a leader.” Occasionally a leader in the group, Audrey adapted naturally to the teacher persona, allowing quieter people to have a chance to talk and have them become mutually engaged within the conversation. 

A specific memory that sticks with Audrey is the laughter the class shared when doing stretches. She can recall “one student who always stood up to lead the stretches… being an athlete, the student naturally became passionate about stretches in the classroom.” It’s the smaller things that not only warmed her heart but inspired her to continue in this ongoing passion.

“Being able to give that input and increase the variety of what we did in class felt like I was supporting the class that everyone (hopefully) looked forward to [during the day]” she said during the interview. Even though the class was to essentially help others, making the class enjoyable for the athletes made it enjoyable for the helpers as well.

Throughout the whole interview, I was engaged with every word coming out of her mouth and found myself with several of my own questions. 

“Coming from an expert like yourself,” I began, humorously but still genuine. She smiled back. I was surprised at her capability of keeping the conversation alive. “What would you say to someone interested in the special education field?” I finally added. 

“Be ready to be uncomfortable,” she warns. “You will be put in positions where you’re talking to people who may follow different social queues and therefore show affection uniquely.” But nonetheless, “embrace it and roll with it.”

By the end of the year, Audrey was dreading leaving the class behind her, but it had its ups. After all, she learned to be more open-minded to people who may act differently and have more patience in situations where most would jump to negative conclusions. During the interview, she even clued me in on potential jobs she’s interested in for her life, one of those being a ‘Board Certified Behavior Analyst’.

Also known as BCBA’s, these professionals help children on the autism spectrum with behavioral-related issues, though the job covers other fields of work like general psychology. It’s safe to say that Audrey is prepared for a future career in the field as she has only strengthened her interaction skills through the ‘Unified Sports’ class. Audrey isn’t only interested in it occupationally, she genuinely enjoys forming friendships with unique people. 

Joining the class is something Audrey will obviously never regret as she not only grew skills but felt appreciated when she was involved in the process.  “It not only felt like I was helping them, it felt like I was being helped,” she adds.