by: BARBARA SHERMAN - Sherwood High School head football coach Greg Lawrence reattaches a coat rack to a newly painted wall in the special needs classroom, while sophomore Colton Buchanan, a football player, looks on.“What in the world happened in here?”

“I love it, love it!”

“It’s like an early Christmas present!”

Those sentiments and more were the reactions from students in Sherwood High School’s special needs class as they came into their classroom Dec. 3 after more than a week off from school.

Instead of coming into the classroom one by one as usual, they were kept out in the commons and wondered why the door was locked.

But when they walked through the door and saw that the space had been transformed with new paint, fixtures, supplies and artwork, they were not only surprised but also grateful when they learned that the SHS football team was responsible for the project.

The initial work took place Nov. 27, in spite of the team preparing for Nov. 30 Class 5A state championship game against West Albany, and was completed Dec. 2.

Coach Greg Lawrence, who talked about the project while trying to install a coat rack along a newly painted wall Dec. 2, said, “One of the team’s assets is the great community here that supports us. I watched my son Keegan, who was a peer mentor in this class last semester, interact with the students, and that inspired me to do something.

“These kids look up to the football players, and we are always looking to give back. We get so much support from the community.”

According to Lawrence, when teacher Cara Bobeda approached him about doing some work in the classroom, the answer was an immediate yes.

“Keegan has remained friends with the kids in this class and sees them when he has a 15-minute break between fourth and fifth period,” Lawrence said. “Some students ignore these kids, but other football players have done peer mentoring too and can relate to them.

“Cara came up with a long list of items needed in the classroom, and we got lots of donations from the football parents.”

Senior Jordan Kurahura, one of the football players working on the project, explained Dec. 2 that he wanted to do it because “when I was in elementary school, there were a couple of special-needs kids in my class.”

He added, “I know when they come in on Tuesday, they will be excited. They don’t have the same opportunities as some of the rest of us — I play football and basketball. It’s great that people are donating things.”

Renovating the main front room took a plan of action that called for all the furniture to be moved out before painting it and the kitchen. Gone were the bare white walls plus one painted a “weird orange,” according to Bobeda, and all the walls got painted a soft yellow color called “desert.”

“I wanted a color that would be calming yet add sensory stimulation,” said Bobeda, and she added that the wall brackets with each student’s name on them were part of the project. “Ownership is important to these kids, and I want them to have their own space.”

The small quiet room off the main room was transformed from a kaleidoscope of colors to a cozy cave-like room with black paint and sparkly white lights around the ceiling to create a soothing atmosphere.

“Today (Dec. 2) we have 30 kids working in here even after our loss, which still hurts a little bit,” said Lawrence, referring to the team’s heart-breaking 21-20 loss to West Albany.

Meanwhile, Bobeda was helping out wherever she was needed as multiple football players finished painting the walls and worked on other projects.

“This is awesome,” she said. “We do our very, very best for these kids, and we teach them to give back. Now they are on the receiving end. They don’t know about this work being done, and they’re going to be really excited.”

According to Bobeda, the class this year has 17 students, which will grow by seven next year.

“The kids and their needs are always fluctuating,” said Bobeda, who has help in the classroom from instructional assistants. “The staff loves these kids, and we do whatever we can to make their experiences richer and better.”

She added, “We’re all Bowmen. We’re all a family. Just because these kids are learning in different ways doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the family. And the peer mentorship program is educational and valuable for both sides.

“I push for inclusion. I feel the other kids who come in here to mentor get as much of an education as they would in any other class — and it’s really reciprocal.”

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