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Students set to visit state capitol

Bradwell Institute’s Friends Helping Friends will walk up the state Capitol steps Tuesday to be honored by lawmakers for their service to special needs students.

Friends Helping Friends connects special-education students with their general-education peers. General-ed students help special-needs students with their academics and motor skills, spend time in their classrooms, play outside and escort them to buses.

Twelve FHF students will travel to Atlanta to be recognized at the beginning of the General Assembly’s morning session by Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway.

Charlie Moon, special-ed teacher and Friends Helping Friends adviser, said FHF was nominated by the adviser of a similar organization he worked with when he was a student teacher in Elberton. That group was honored at the Capitol and his former teacher was impressed with what BI’s FHF was doing, Moon said.

He was then invited to Atlanta.

BI juniors Tiffany Swinton and Guindalyn Goss are excited about the trip. Goss called it "mind-blowing" and thinks it is an opportunity to bring more attention to special-needs students.

"The thing I’m looking forward to the most is seeing the inside of the state house," Goss said. "I think it will be really formal and beautiful inside."

Swinton is looking forward to building stronger bonds with classmates. She moved to Liberty County from Michigan and started school in the fall.

"Going to the state house will be my first time and this is something amazing and beautiful that we are being honored for," Swinton said.

Swinton joined FHF because she wanted to help special-needs students.

"When you look around today, people overlook them like they’re not important," she said. "I want them to feel important, like they can do anything in the world," she said.

Moon said many FHF students are realizing they can pursue careers involving special-needs people outside of education. Swinton wants to be an OB-GYN or music therapist. Goss wants to have a career in psychiatry.

Moon believes FHF students deserve the honor.

"I think it’s about time they received something other than like a certificate," Moon said. "So it’s kind of big that we’re going."

He said the club is having an impact on the school.

"Besides getting recognized, the by-product of it (FHF) is it makes people more aware and helps the special needs kids meld with everyone else," he said. "Teachers and staff that have been here for a long time are amazed at how they’ve kind of melded with everybody else."

Moon said interaction between general ed and special needs students have improved.

In addition to being honored before lawmakers their plans include visiting the Georgia Aquarium and dinner at a live music venue.

The trip was paid for by a private donor.

Goss and Swinton encouraged other general-ed students to join the club.

"It offers communication with a part of the school, with students, they had never even imagined they could come into interaction with," Goss said. "When you join FHF you can see how they work and take an interest in them."

Swinton said joining gives special-needs students a chance to be more open with themselves, with peers and encourages them to try different things.

FHF recently went to Tarrantino’s Pizza in Reidsville, where they learned how to make their own pizzas.

The trip was paid for through funds raised by FHF.

FHF will host a special-needs talent show March 10.

Approximately 30 high school and middle school students in the area have signed-up to compete.

The event will help raise funds for the club.

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