By Kathy Walsh

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) — Students were teaching other students Tuesday afternoon at Lakewood High School. In a technical education class, skilled students helped students with special learning needs. The class was about creating a woodworking project, but it was also about building a partnership.

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It was crazy loud and looked like a lot of confusion, but the students were busy working side by side.

“It’s okay, it’s not going to hurt you,” said Christian Medina, a Lakewood senior.

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He was helping Isabelle Gonzalez-Ramos make a bird house.

“Push on it right there, OK,” he told her.

Christian is a student in Lakewood’s woodworking class. Isabelle has special learning needs. She and fellow students from Lakewood and Alameda High School joined the class to build a tool carrier, a bird house or a jewelry box.

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“You guys having a fun time so far?” asked Christian.

He appreciates being a peer coach.

“The opportunity doesn’t always come around to help out people who can’t necessarily do these kinds of things for themselves and to, kind of, give them that experience and that opportunity is really something special for me,” Christian told CBS 4’s Kathy Walsh.

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This partnership was a first for 27-year Technical Education teacher, Steven Barnhill.

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“A warm, fuzzy, nice inter-school experience is my desire and my hope,” Barnhill said.

Isabelle discovered the joy of sanding and the confidence that comes with cooperation.

“What do you think of Christian?” asked Walsh.

“Nice and helpful,” said Isabelle.

Christian was quick to offer assurances when loud sounds scared the special ed students. This class was much more than a project, it was a class in compassion.

Lakewood High School calls classes like this one, “Unified.”

According to Lakewood High School Principal Daniel Bock, at Lakewood, and throughout Jefferson County, Unified programs are a way for students with learning disabilities to partner with peer coaches with a unified purpose — to learn with others.

Lakewood has had Unified PE for nearly a decade and Unified Theatre for the last three years.  This was the first experience for Unified Tech.

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Kathy Walsh is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 since 1984. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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