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March 5, 2017

Wings Academy opens new doors at Guerin Catholic

Reiley Harrington works as a peer tutor with Trevor King, the first student in the new Wings Academy.

Reiley Harrington works as a peer tutor with Trevor King, the first student in the new Wings Academy.

By Caroline B. Mooney

NOBLESVILLE — Trevor King is the first student in St. Theodore Guerin High School’s new Wings Academy. During a recent visit to his classroom, King gave a resounding endorsement of the program as he exclaimed that Guerin Catholic “is the best place on earth to be.”

The Wings Academy, which began in August, is designed to meet individual needs of students with cognitive disabilities who are not pursuing a high school diploma.

The idea for such an endeavor was being pursued at Guerin Catholic when Trevor’s mom, Emily King, asked school officials how they could provide a Catholic education for her son.

“Our oldest son graduated from Guerin and we were very happy with the school,” Emily King said. “We wanted a faith-based education for all our children. We were sad that we didn’t have that choice for Trevor.”

Trevor, who has a delay in cognitive function, attended his family’s parish school, Our Lady of Grace, Noblesville, from kindergarten through seventh grade. The Kings then homeschooled him for one year to determine his classroom needs.

“We met with people at Guerin and were very excited,” Emily King said. “They have really created a program that reaches Trevor where he’s at. Trevor doesn’t have to learn every single thing, but what is pertinent to him. The Wings Academy looks to needs of students as they graduate and go out on their own.

“The student population is wonderful,” she said. “Teachers focus on college preparation at Guerin, so he is really an adjustment for them, but they willingly, ably and lovingly support him.”

“We planted a seed and Guerin ran with it,” said Trevor’s father, Richard King. “Guerin is such a great school — we just wanted anybody to have the ability to receive an education there. I can’t say enough about the way they nurture kids both spiritually and formationally. It’s a true blessing to have it be so close.”

“We want the program to grow slowly,” said Christine Williams, assistant principal and director of academics. “We don’t envision ever having more than two students per grade level because of the wide range of needs we could experience.

“We are starting to define what each year of high school will look like for this program and hope to incorporate a work study component with local businesses in the senior year,” Williams said. “Students could gain work experience and discern what they really want to do in their communities. We want them to try different experiences so they have an idea of what they want to do after they leave Guerin.

“We talk about developing their God-given potential and stretching them beyond what they feel they are initially capable of,” she said. “Our hope for these students is to take them where they are and push them as we do all of our students. Even though that might look different than our other students, it’s still in line with what our hope is for all our kids. We really want to give them the life skills that they need to walk out of our door and be successful.”

In 2015, staff from Guerin Catholic went to Roncalli High School in Indianapolis to learn about a similar program.

“We shadowed to see how it works throughout a school day, then had a long meeting with them learning about how they started and what we could do,” Williams said. “They had the same situation — a family had expressed interest and asked if they could help. Roncalli’s guidance was instrumental in getting this program started.”

“Trevor has been here six months and grown so much,” said Dawn Street, Learning Support Department chair. “He has been a real blessing and is the joy of the morning for my entire class. His peers enjoy him so much. This is really beneficial to our entire student community.

“We have learned that many colleges have programs for students with cognitive disabilities, so some of our students will go off to college,” she said. “The program is rigorous; we are pushing Trevor to stretch himself. He really has grown this year and his potential has changed as well. He is really going to be able to use the God-given gifts that he has. We are all very fond of Trevor — he is a blessing to our entire Catholic community.”

Before school started, school officials met to discuss the best ways to meet Trevor’s needs.

Peggy Gillig, Learning Support and Wings Academy teacher, attends all Trevor’s classes with him and modifies the lesson plans as needed. That may change, but it depends upon his progress.

“It’s been going exceptionally well,” Gillig said. “I have been pleasantly surprised by what Trevor is able to do. His parents want him to function in society like other people, so we are giving him those life skills and academic skills.

“I make sure Trevor is getting what is necessary at his level,” she said. “In my classroom, he has cursive writing because his mom requested that, as well as math, reading, language. Every student that comes in will have an individual curriculum from me, depending on their needs. I have seen a lot of growth in Trevor. He has more social interactions in the hallway and is well accepted by other students.”

She is in touch with his parents as often as necessary.

“We encourage Trevor to be proactive and advocate for himself. So when he gets out in the work force, he will be able to talk to his boss,” Gillig said.

When Trevor showed frustration with spreadsheets, she asked about his interest in the subject.  

“I read his body language and listen to what he is saying to determine what is in his best interest in each class,” she said.

The program includes weekly peer tutoring from National Honor Society students, including senior Reiley Harrington.

“I work with him on counting money,” she said. “He rides to the store and uses his skills to buy pizza. I really like working with him and teaching him new things. But he teaches me stuff, too. He is very social and says ‘Hi’ to everyone, and he fills me in on everything going on in his day. He really fits in perfectly at Guerin.”

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