LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Many programs and classes are offered at Lakewood Ranch High School but peer counseling does not get the recognition and praise it deserves.
Peer counseling allows a select few LRHS students to help teach and be role models for peers with learning disabilities.
Peer counseling class has 10 developmentally delayed students and three peer counselors per class period. The program has been headed for three years by exceptional student education teacher Melissa Koehlinger.
The program allows counselors and students to form special bonds in which they learn from each other.
"The students have impacted me and it hasn't even been one semester. They have taught me a lot of patience and to be persistent," said senior peer counselor Rachel Gross.
Sophomore peer counselor Mollie Rainwater agrees.
"They have made me see the world in a different light and they have taught me just as much as I have taught them," Rainwater said.
Many peer counselors, including junior Brianna Rowland, senior Amy Lawson and senior Catie Hanson, want to learn sign language to better communicate with the students and improve
their relationships. Hanson also helps peer counseling student Jessie Edelman outside of school.
Peer counseling students have a normal school day just like any other students. They have a daily class schedule and go to lunch but, unlike regular students, they go on field trips such as bowling with ESE students, too.
The program is more beneficial to special students than traditional ESE teaching because they work with counselors the same age, who better relate to them, according to Rainwater.
"It helps students by offering a new perspective and by getting to interact with people their own age," said Rainwater.
Peer counselors say fostering relationships with ESE students and making them happy is the most rewarding aspect of the program. They also hope to make a difference in student lives and impact them positively.
"I hope that, even it a small way, I can impact their lives and make their days a little bit brighter," said Rainwater.
Senior peer counselor Andie Tradler said: "(The best part of the program is) being with the great kids and getting to know them. I love all the fun activities."
Fellow senior counselor Laurel Rowland said the class makes memories she will always cherish.
"They are a huge joy to work with and I believe they have impacted my life."