Pizza and praise for 'Max and Company' students

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Moosup - posted Tue., Jun. 7, 2011
PHS teacher Sandi Collins (center) with Joe Meier and Stacey Plantier. Photo by D. Coffey.
PHS teacher Sandi Collins (center) with Joe Meier and Stacey Plantier. Photo by D. Coffey.

Twenty-five Plainfield High School seniors were lavished with praise and pizza at the Riverview Restaurant in Moosup on June 5. They all belonged to Max and Company, a group dedicated to assisting special needs students in Plainfield.

Sandi Collins, the paraprofessional who organized the dinner, said she wanted to recognize a great group of kids, some of whom had been with her for 10 years.

What began as a way to reward students’ good behavior turned into a 35-member group dedicated to assisting special needs students adjust to and flourish in the public school system.

“It all started with going for walks,” Collins said.

Collins was the instructor for Max, a student with autism, who she took on daily walks. If a student behaved well one day, he or she was able to accompany Max on his daily walk. Soon, small groups of students went on the walks together. They grew curious about some of the things Max needed on a daily basis, eventually accompanying him to occupational therapy sessions. When the group grew large enough, Collins opened the program up to other special needs students. It has branched out into the high school and the wider community, she said. The students of Max and Company have held dinner dances for special needs students, have held fundraisers and helped on annual Christmas shopping trips to the East Brook Mall.

The group has donated equipment and clothing to families of special needs children. Students offer babysitting services, as well. This year Collins spoke with staff and students at the Killingly Intermediate School because they are interested in starting something similar in Killingly.

Chelsea Lincoln has been with Max and Company since kindergarten. She has gone on field trips with students, helped them with homework and just been a friend who says hello in the hallways.

Joe Meier and Orensi Cela got involved without really knowing what to expect. Neither student had much experience with special needs students before they joined. Cela said he found that helping students with life skills and learning how to ride bikes was very satisfying. Meier called the program very beneficial to those involved.

“I’ve learned it's okay to approach them,” he said. “They’re nice people. Probably the friendliest people I’ve ever met.”

Special education teacher Dot Belous spoke highly of the Max and Company seniors. “It’s amazing the maturity that these students have,” she said. “They’re good people. The way they interact with the students is just wonderful.”

Collins said goodbye to each of the students as they left. “I don’t want these kids to go unrecognized,” she said. “It’s hard for me to say goodbye.”

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