Uniting Gothenburg High in a different way
Surrounded by friends
Jarred McMichael is a 17-year-old junior at Gothenburg High School with many friends.
He enjoys playing sports with his family and is no slouch in physical education doing everything all the other students do.
The only difference is Jarred has Down’s Syndrome.
“He can do anything. He just does it differently,” said his mother Sherri McMichael. “Whatever he decides he wants to do, he does.”
Sherri said the kids in school rally around her son and they help him be successful.
“In P.E., the kids let him serve the entire time in volleyball which is something they didn’t have to do,” Sherri said. “They want to include him.”
School isn’t the only place Jarred is surrounded by friends. He plays on a Cozad basketball team and swims in state and regional Special Olympic competitions.
Sherri said he has always wanted to play sports like his older siblings and those activities allow him to do so.
“I know if he played sports for the high school teams, he would be the first one on the field or court,” Sherri said.
She has since tried to start a Gothenburg Special Olympics team to fill Jarred and the family’s time with sports.
“Sports are everything in our family,” Sherri said. “His older siblings played sports, his younger brother plays sports.”
In school, Jarred is assisted by paraeducator Katherine Middleton.
While Jarred doesn’t usually attend regular classes, he does spend time with Middleton for most of the day.
On some days, the two drop by classes for a learning exercise before going to the local senior center.
“We will do laundry and clean tables there,” Middleton said. “He is learning many life skills.”
Being at school and around his friends are things that Jarred enjoys, Sherri said.
But life isn’t always enjoyable for Jarred when things in his life change or if he wants something but can’t describe it.
“There has been a language barrier between us since he was little,” Sherri said. “We are always working on that.”
She said the McMichaels tried using sign language and that failed, continuing the struggle with communication.
“It’s frustrating for him when he looks at me and I can’t understand him,” Sherri said.
At school the barrier can be student interaction and even with Middleton, but Sherri said the paraeducator is there to listen to him and help him through the days.
“Jarred is a blessing,” Middleton said. “To me he is normal.”
Both Middleton and Sherri said the biggest challenge was when Jarred entered middle school.
His former paraeducator, Karen Sawyer, retired and he didn’t know why she wasn’t with him, Middleton said.
“Changes are tough on him,” Sherri said. “It’s important we take time and explain why things are happening to him.”
His friend Brennan Spencer helps and has been a lifelong friend and a true companion to Jarred, Sherri said.
“I don’t know what we would do without Brennan,” Sherri said. “He works with him and shows him compassion.”
October is Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month and last week, Jarred, his mother, students and staff, along with Circle of Friends helped raise awareness about Down’s Syndrome for students at the high school.
A yellow sheet of paper had pictures of Jarred’s accomplishments for students to sign.
Classmates and friends received bracelets and stickers to spread awareness.
Circle of Friends program director Sherry Damrow says mentors in the program meet on Tuesdays to plan activities for special needs target students.
“The program provides role model peer mentors with students of special needs,” Damrow said. “They interact and realize that special needs kids are the same as them.”
Damrow noted that while students are interacting, the special needs target students learn social skills and ways to behave.
“Circle of Friends spreads awareness throughout the school,” Damrow said. “It allows Jarred and other special needs students to feel like they are a part of the school community.”
Gothenburg High School has had the program for two years and its largest event was a Thanksgiving dinner served at the school last year.
“This program helps educate students and staff of special needs,” Damrow said.”