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A New Kindness This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   My sister always encouraged me not to judge people byphysical characteristics, but I never actually knew how important it was to beopen-minded until I began high school.

To improve my school's state testscores, the school board implemented workshops to prepare students for the artsand humanities section of the test. One workshop discussed the differencesbetween "typical" and special-needs students. We did activities to seehow open we were to different types of people, and how well we acceptedhandicapped people in our lives. In a class of 30, only three students fit thecriteria of completely accepting people as they are. I was one of those three.This information came as a surprise, since I had never had a conversation with ahandicapped student or even thought about becoming involved with them - untilthat day.

After the workshop I spoke to the teacher about a peer tutoringclass that works with handicapped students. She said I should consider it, but Iwas skeptical. After all, I had never had contact with a handicapped person. Igave it some thought, contemplating whether I wanted to deal with the"hassle." The next day, not understanding what I was getting myselfinvolved in, I spoke with my counselor and she placed me in peer tutoring for thefollowing year.

When I walked into the classroom, I was scared as asquirrel trying to run across a four-lane highway. Despite my fears, everyonewelcomed me. The goal was to make society more accessible for mentallyhandicapped students. The class taught them about money, home life,responsibility, banking, and living in society. After they learned thoseconcepts, the school found them a job, where they received a paycheck andinteracted with society at the same time.

I met many friends in thisclass. They called me on school nights and Sunday mornings because they neededsomeone to talk to. Even if my other friends teased me, they knew not to makederogatory remarks about these friends. I was not ashamed when they came up tome at lunch and told me about their jobs or their newest girlfriend.

Ihad been kind to my friends and strangers, but had never felt this type ofkindness before. Peer tutoring gave me the chance to find something in my heart:compassion for humanity. This has changed my life forever. I no longer stare ator feel sorry for handicapped people; I better understand how they feel andthink. They are normal, socially acceptable human beings. They may not have thesame IQ as I do, or be able to concentrate as long as I can, but we do have onething in common - we have hearts that feel.

The benefits of this class areindescribable. This experience has helped me become more open with others in myschool and community. Had I not taken it, I would not have communicated withhandicapped students in my school. I have learned that there is more to the worldthan what happens in my "bubble." My new friends are people who haveimpacted my life in a way they will probably never know.



This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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