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Students in Falls Church teach art to peers with disabilities

Students in Falls Church teach art to peers with disabilities. (ABC7)

Vladimir Shevkun has long enjoyed art class, but now the 14-year old is excited about it for an entirely different reason.

"Working with these kids. Seeing how excited they get," the 8th grader at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church said.

The kids he's talking about are fellow classmates with intellectual disabilities like 7th-grade student Sara Haichour who told ABC7 News, "It feels happy like painting with other students."

Students who take this art extensions class serve as art buddies twice a month. Special Education Teacher Andrea Mayer helped develop the concept. The art students interviewed her to better understand the needs of the I-D students and develop a lesson plan.

"So basically it's student-led. We talked about the students' disabilities, talked about confidentiality, and what we expected from it," Mayer said.

The approach is known as adaptive art, 8th grader Abigail Beattie told us, "The simple principles they're using are honestly pretty cool and they're pretty fun to do."

Since the school year started, students have been involved in seven projects, one of which involved making giant, cardboard flowers that were recently displayed at a local art show.

"My friend told me to paint all this and so I painted that," 13-year-old Jordan Wilson shared. Since taking the student-led class he's noticed his artwork has become neater.

Wilson also likes having a buddy to assist him with his creations. "If I mess up they can tell me what I'm doing wrong and I can fix it," he said.

The partnership fosters responsibility and selflessness for the students who lead as well as confidence for those who follow. Mayer said,

"They come back from class and they're ready to go into the next lesson, they feel good about what they've done, their self-esteem has improved." Art Teacher Janet Lundeen added, "You can see their kinship. They're really a tight group of kids now and I think they'll always have that friendship among themselves."

This is the first year of the student-led adaptive art class at Luther Jackson and teachers hope to continue it.

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