Rachael Starkey is accustomed to the spotlight as a varsity cheerleader at Greenbrier High School.
But for her senior project, the 18-year-old is putting the spotlight on another group of students during halftime of the varsity girls basketball game Friday night.
"My project is I'm working with the special education kids at our high school, Greenbrier, and we're going to do a cheer at the beginning (of half-time) to get them interacting with the crowd," Starkey said. "Then we're going to do like a little dance afterwards, after the cheer."
At Thursday's first practice, the seven special education students seemed excited about learning the cheerleading and dance routine. When the music started, each student moved enthusiastically to the beat, most with big smiles.
Each time Starkey asked if they were ready to go through the routine again, Viviana Cordero yelled, "Yeah, baby," as she ran back to her starting position.
"My students are being given the opportunity to participate in an extracurricular activity that they have enjoyed watching and listening to at pep rallies," Betsy Barrs, a special education teacher, said of her class. "Rachael has been able to develop friendships with my students and my students in turn have become friends with Rachael."
As part of her clinical class, Starkey has spent two periods a day since early December working with the students, getting to know them and allowing them to get comfortable with her. Starkey has been helping them do class work for other teachers, organizing papers and going on job-shadowing field trips alongside the students.
Barrs said her students are learning to take instruction from someone other than a teacher. Starkey said she is seeing how the students learn and she is learning herself about teaching strategies such as breaking down steps and monitoring behavior.
Starkey said she decided to teach the class as her project after seeing a similar performance while the varsity cheerleading squad competed for the state title.
"At state, during the exhibition at the halftime when the judges are totaling up the scores and whatnot, they had a group of special education kids. There was like 25 boys and girls both who performed," Starkey said. "I just thought it was so cool and I wanted to bring that to our school ... Nothing is impossible for these kids."
The halftime routine Starkey has overseen includes a stunt in which a student steps on top of the thigh of two cheerleaders, who will be assisting during the performance, and stands up to form a small pyramid.
"They can do a lot more than people think they can," Starkey said. "They amaze me."
The group will have four practices under their belt by show time. The varsity girls basketball game is slated to begin at 6 p.m. Friday in the school's gym on Riverwood Parkway.
Kim Buchanan, Greenbrier High's senior project coordinator, said Starkey's project is one of many that demonstrate the Senior Project program is a worthwhile endeavor allowing seniors to be involved in opportunities to use "real-world" skills while showcasing their own talents.
"Rachael's project clearly indicates the quality of students we teach here at Greenbrier High School," Buchanan said. "... They are compassionate, diligent and community-oriented."
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