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Future teachers learn from friends with disabilities

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – A class of 12 education students at Washington State University Tri-Cities and adults with developmental disabilities are sharing lunch, games and activities once a month to make friends and develop their professional and social skills.

“For my guys, this is a great way to make friends and get to know people outside their families and outside The Arc,” said BreAnna Vaughn, a coordinator at The Arc of Tri-Cities, which assists persons with developmental disabilities in choosing and realizing where and how they learn, live, work and play.

“The benefit for the students at WSU Tri-Cities is that they get to know people in this community and learn how they can help these individuals prosper in their future roles as teachers,” she said.

“It is a good experience for our students who are in education because nowadays, with trends in inclusive education, they will have students with disabilities in their classrooms,” said Yun-Ju Hsiao, assistant professor of special education at WSU Tri-Cities and co-organizer of the peer lunch club. “It provides our students with a good start in learning how to interact with these individuals and what strategies will work best for their learning, in addition to allowing them to make some new friends.”

Food, fun and friendship

During a recent lunch club meeting, participants made paper snowflakes to decorate The Arc for the holidays.

Spencer Pidcock, a client from The Arc of Tri-Cities, cuts a snowflake as part of the WSU Tri-Cities Peer Lunch Club.

“Making the snowflakes has probably been one of my favorite activities,” said The Arc client Spencer Pidcock. He also has enjoyed bonding with the students over common interests such as movies; his favorites are from the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” The Arc client Grady Horvath said. “I’ve made lots of friends so far.”

“We’re developing these friendships that we never would have had otherwise,” said WSU Tri-Cities student Karli Korten. “We ask them questions about what is coming up new in their lives and you realize they have the same thoughts about life and the same anxieties.”

“It is like an eye-opener because you see people with disabilities and you generally don’t know how to act with them at first,” WSU Tri-Cities student Maria Admani said. “But you start talking with them and you realize they are just like you.”

Gaining professional benefits

WSU Tri-Cities student Carrie Stewart said she will definitely use the peer lunch experience in her career as a teacher.

WSU Tri-Cities education students and clients from The Arc of Tri-Cities play a game of pass the potato during their Peer Lunch Club this month.

“To see individuals with disabilities in this environment, it is almost like a classroom environment,” she said. “This is a great way to allow us to learn how to build bonds, which will help us help them be successful in their own lives.”

Student Kimberlee Moon said the lunches can help the future teachers improve the educational experience for all their students.

“You get to know those from The Arc just as you would any other kid in the classroom,” she said. “You can incorporate their interests just as you would any student’s. You may have to use different strategies, but those strategies you use for students with disabilities will also work for every student in the classroom.”


News media contacts:
Yun-Ju Hsiao, WSU Tri-Cities special education, 509-372-7333,
BreAnna Vaughn, The Arc of Tri-Cities coordinator, 509-783-1131,
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations, 509-372-7333,


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