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New Richmond High School students mentor, peers learn from each other

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Students in Beth L'Allier's Getting Teens Together class at New Richmond High School are learning what it's like to be a mentor.

The class is made up of six mentors and six special education students. The students interact and accompany each other in various social gatherings to learn from each other.

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The class, which meets three times a week for three weeks, is entirely driven by the students, said L'Allier, a guidance counselor at New Richmond High School.

The mentors met separately the first day of the class to brainstorm social ideas, she said.

"I asked them what they liked to do with their friends and they said they just like to hang out," she said. "I love that."

That means the group has spent a lot of time gathering at Paperjack Park to simply enjoy each other's company, she said.

"It's great because they can go off on walks or just lounge around and talk," she said.

Other social activities the group has participated in include baking, going to the movies, bowling and decorating T-shirts with puff paint.

On Wednesday, June 29, the teens visited Gibby's Lanes to bowl and were joined by a few of Natassia Bangert's special education students, kids who have been identified as having severe disabilities.

L'Allier said she's been impressed with how the mentors have interacted with the special needs students.

"For a lot of them this is out of their comfort zone," she said. "At first the special needs students would sit together and the mentors would sit together, but now they interact. A few of them will jump right in, even with the severely disabled students."

It's a crucial experience for many of the students, L'Allier said.

For example, one special needs student really enjoys hugging people. To help prepare him for high school, the NRHS mentors are teaching him that a better, and more acceptable, option is to give high fives instead of bear hugs.

Although the class lasts only three weeks, L'Allier said the students will continue to interact when they see each other in the hallways during the school year. She also hopes to organize monthly gatherings with the students, she said.

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Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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