Alvirne’s W.A.T.S. Club Recognized as Student Organization of the Year

November 28, 2014

by Shannon Lindsay, Rivier University Intern

Back in 2009, the Hudson School District was awarded a grant for Teens Mentoring Teens, which led to the formation of an “Introduction to Human Services” class at Alvirne High School.  Through this class, Alvirne’s W.A.T.S. Club was first formed, and now, five years later, the club is beginning to get some of the recognition it deserves.  What is W.A.T.S. anyway?
Last Tuesday, November 18, the W.A.T.S Club, whose name stands for “We’re All the Same,” sent 11 students to Concord to accept the Student Organization of the Year award.  This award is given out each year by the NH Transition Community of Practice to a student organization “that engages youth in the organization’s leadership and promotes development of self-determination and interpersonal relationships.”
Joanne Curry, the club’s adviser, is a Special Education teacher at Alvirne, and the club’s motto states that its focus is on “the acceptance of all, making friends, and being good role models and contributing members to society.”  Another one of its mottos is “a place where you can make a friend or be a friend.”
Linda Orlando, a program para-professional at Alvirne, says about Curry, “It is obvious that she loves what she is doing.  In the process of planning these events, she teaches the students life-long learning skills that, as they graduate, they will be able to take with them.”
You don’t have to have any special skills or talents to be a part of the W.A.T.S. Club; everyone is welcome.  Many students with either physical or mental disabilities who may struggle with social skills and peer interactions participate in the club because it is a place where they feel comfortable.  But, Curry makes it clear that she does not like to consider the problems that these students have to be disabilities.  She instead refers to them as “students with ongoing challenges because it’s not a disability unless you choose to look at it that way.”
Mary Dowling, mother of one of the students in the club, has praised the club:  “The W.A.T.S. program has allowed Kristen to interact with her peers, not only in V114 classes, but in Alvirne High School.  She has come so far socially because of this program, and the students as well as staff who volunteer their time are truly amazing.  Kristen grew up watching her sister play sports and get ready for dances, and now it’s Kristen’s turn to do ‘all the same’ things.”
The W.A.T.S. Club focuses on Alvirne’s four core values and beliefs:  character, curiosity, commitment, and community.  These things are clear in every event that the club holds or participates in.  Monthly social gatherings are held, such as the Halloween party last month, but the W.A.T.S. Club also does a lot of projects to help the community, such as the Thanksgiving Pie Share, which just ended earlier this week.
Unified Sports, sports in which students with ongoing challenges are able to partner up with a buddy who can help them, is another activity that members of the W.A.T.S. Club are very active in.  Alvirne has unified soccer, unified basketball, unified volleyball, unified track and field, and a unified cheerleading squad.  Many kids love that Unified Sports allow them to participate in sports that they otherwise would not have been able to play.
Leslie Reven, administrative assistant to Principal Steve Beals, loves attending the sporting events to watch and support the kids, and she encourages everyone to do the same.  “If you were ever to go to a Unified Sports event and see the athletes having an awesome time with their buddies and the look of excitement on their faces when they score, you would walk away feeling uplifted,” Reven said.
The W.A.T.S. Club is also responsible for Pop Sensation, a popcorn stand run by many of the students in the Special Education program who otherwise may have not had the chance to interact with other kids in the school because they do not take the same classes.  The popcorn stand is open every Thursday during all student lunch periods.  This popcorn business has been very successful at Alvirne and has helped a lot of these kids to feel more comfortable interacting socially with others.
Some other successful events the W.A.T.S. Club has been involved with include the Gingerbread House Social, the Penguin Plunge, a Valentine’s Day Social, Jamie’s Bears for Social Justice, Spread the Word to End the Word, and Jimmy Fund Strike Out Cancer.  One of the most successful events thus far, though, was the Unified Prom held last year.
This prom was a true community effort.  Students from Milford High School and Campbell High School were invited to attend, Continental Academy did students’ hair, AHS cosmetology students did students’ make-up, and Blooming Broncos made corsages and flowers.  Many staff members from Alvirne, as well as other members of the town, contributed to the event in various ways.  Everyone was willing to pitch in to make this a great night, and it most certainly was.
Many of the students who attended this prom and also attended Alvirne’s annual Senior Prom said that Unified Prom was a lot more fun.  Kristen Dowling said it was her favorite event the W.A.T.S. Club has been a part of:  “I got my nails and hair done and got a new dress to wear.  I danced all night with my friends.”
Right now, there are two upcoming events which the club is very excited about; one is an event that they held last year which was very successful, and one is new.  The new event is Unified Theatre.  While many students have greatly enjoyed taking part in Unified Sports, some are not interested in sports, and, as Lauren Dennis, an English teacher at Alvirne and also one of the teachers in charge of Alvirne’s Class Act explained, “Theatre allows for a different outlet than sports.”
Dennis, who is having a big part in putting the Unified Theatre show together, was eager to discuss it and explained that it is going to be very heavily Christmas themed and “somewhere between a variety show and a sing-along.”  She said that anytime she asks any of the kids what they want to do for the show, they have told her they just want to have fun.  There will be three performances:  Thursday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 20 at 2 p.m.  Another exciting thing about the show is that it’s going to be held in Alvirne’s new theatre, Theatre 3.1.1.
The other upcoming event that the W.A.T.S. Club would like to get the word out about is the “12 Days of Caring,” which will be take place from Dec. 8 to Dec. 22.  Each day, there will be a different type of item students are asked to bring in to school.  For example, some of the days are dedicated to school supplies, winter outerwear, baby products, books, pet products, toys, and other items.
The schedule for this event has been included in this week’s Hudson~Litchfield News, and anyone who is not a student at Alvirne can still participate.  You can simply leave your items in the bins located at Alvirne’s Steck lobby any time during school hours.  Each day, the collected items will be delivered to a different Hudson community organization.  You can also feel free to have your team, club, or class adopt a day together.  You can all bring in items for that day which someone from Alvirne can collect if they are aware of it.  This is a great way to start sharing holiday spirit.  Last year, the fundraiser was very successful.
Before the W.A.T.S. Club, there were many students who felt there was nowhere for them to belong; they weren’t fitted to one specific club.  However, many of these kids don’t feel this way anymore.  Caroline Truesdell, a junior who has been a part of the W.A.T.S. Club for a few years, described the club:  “This club isn’t just a club; we are a family.”  She also says that though some of the kids may have challenges, “Our members know they can make a difference, despite anything they are up against.”
When asked what people should know about the W.A.T.S. Club, David Trenholm stated, “It teaches kindness and tolerance,” and Tristan Lindsay added, “I have made some good friends in W.A.T.S. Club.”  Kelsey Richards also praised the club stating, “It is fun to be with all my friends.  I like this club.”
Another student who feels she has found her place, Deanna Donadio, summed it up well: “I like having social events where everybody is included.  The club automatically welcomes everybody even if you have trouble making friends, or trouble walking steady.”
Deanna and Caroline, as well as two other students from Alvirne (Rida Baines and Lyndsey Hir), will attend the NH Youth Summit at Waterville on Dec. 4 and 5.  They will be there in support of “Project Unify.”  By sending these four students to the conference, Alvirne hopes to share with other schools all of the success it has had with the W.A.T.S. Club and to encourage those schools to bring joy to their students by forming similar clubs.
12 Days of Caring 2014
December 8th:  Holiday Decorations/Gift Wrap (paper, bows, boxes)
December 9th:  Non-perishable foods (in conjunction with holiday concerts)
December 10th:  Diapers and Baby Products
December 11th:  Books (children and adults)
December 12th:  Socks and Slippers
December 15th:  Toys
December 16th:  Pet Food/Products
December 17th:  Hats, Mittens, Scarves
December 18th:  School Supplies
December 19th:  Winter Outerwear (jackets, snow pants and boots)
December 21st:  Personal care products
December 22nd:  Pajamas and blankets
Share in the holiday spirit and help support our Hudson community organizations by sending new or gently used items from the list.  All donations can be placed in the bins in the Steck or CTE lobbies.  Thank you!
Feel free to have your whole team, club, or class “Adopt a Day!”